Children’s Books that Explore the Worlds Around Us

Worlds collide in this trio of exciting new children’s books that explore realms near and far and that are sure to entertain any intrepid adventurers. 

A Story Like the Wind, by Gill Lewis, illustrated by Jo Weaver; Eerdmans, $16.00, 80 pages, ages 9 and up.

Anyone who can get through this book without tearing up must have a heart of stone. Award-winning author Gill Lewis’s tale of channeling hope despite facing an uncertain future starts in a rudderless boat bobbing about in a vast ocean carrying refugees away from war. As the situation seems to take a turn for the worse, the passengers begin to talk about the lives they left behind. Young Rami only had time to grab his violin before fleeing and shares a musical story about a white stallion unwilling to bend to an evil overlord. The creature pays a heavy price for its actions, but in turn inspires hope that the struggle is worth the pain. Kate Greenaway award finalist Jo Weaver’s inky-toned illustrations are an evocative and powerful match for the stirring prose. A beautiful and heart-wrenching celebration of love, kindness, and freedom for all. 

The King of Nothing, by Guridi, translated from Spanish by Saul Endor; The New York Review of Children’s Books; $16.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Originally published in 2013 in Spanish, the English translation of Guridi’s book offers a wry look at different ways of welding power.  Here, we meet Mimo the First as he rules over his domain of nothingness–perfectly outlined by dash marks throughout the book–and maintains law and order with unprecedented tenacity. All is right until one day when Mimo is confronted by something and goes on the offensive to eradicate this unwelcome interloper. But this intruder is stubborn, too, and the little king is faced with some unpleasant choices. Will there be war or compromise? 

A caveat, please: parents will make this book immensely more enjoyable if they can refrain from political commentary while reading with their children. To be sure, for some adults, the temptation to editorialize does exist here. Instead, delight in this absurd and whimsical examination of the power of the human imagination and leave politics out of it. 

Image reproduced with permission of NYRCB. copyright 2013 Guridi.

Image reproduced with permission of NYRCB. copyright 2013 Guridi.

The Boy Who Went to Mars, by Simon James; Candlewick Press, $17.99, 32 pages, ages 2-6.

Award-winning children’s book creator Simon James is back with a story reveling in the joys of active imaginations. Young Stanley is taken by surprise when his mother leaves on an overnight work trip and decides that he, too, must take a trip. Except that Stanley flies off to Mars, and his spaceship returns to Earth carrying a slightly petulant little martian. And this extra-terrestrial doesn’t like to play by earthling rules: no hand washing, no vegetables, and certainly no tooth brushing. An altercation between the martian and a playmate leads to an emotional internal reckoning, leaving the boy/martian to figure out how to make things right. James’s pen and watercolor illustrations capture both the boundless pleasures of imaginative play and the unequivocal love of strong family bonds. 

Mrs. White Rabbit

The White Rabbit is always busy. This book explores how his wife manages a rambunctious household in the heart of Wonderland.

Mrs. White Rabbit, by Gilles Bachelet; Eerdmans, $17.00, 32 pages, ages 6-10. 

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Mrs White Rabbit has her paws full: caring for a household overrun with a warren of rambunctious bunnies, tending to the needs of her time-strapped husband, the White Rabbit, and entertaining the oddball visits of a size-shifting girl named Alice has left the family matriarch feeling sullen, stressed, and neglected. It turns out today is her birthday, and her distracted husband has forgotten all about it. Mrs. White Rabbit vents her daily drama in diary format, giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at life in Wonderland for the White Rabbit’s better half. Gilles Bachelet’s humorous look at leporidine domesticity is accompanied by his equally witty illustrations of bunnies at play, and causing mischief, all under the perennially peeved gaze of Mrs. White Rabbit. Could any family expect tranquility when taking up residence in Wonderland? Besides, it seems all Mrs. W. really wants is a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and who can’t relate to that?

Originally published in French as Madame le Lapin Blanc, this cheeky twist on Lewis Carroll’s classic is a quirky reminder that it takes a village to raise a family, and though everyone is busy these days–replace the White Rabbit’s clock with a cell phone and he’d blend in perfectly with any number of daily commuters–we’ve got to make time for our loved ones, too.

 

I am a Bear, by Jean-François Dumont; Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, $16.00, 34 pages, ages 4-7.

Hawaii is making news this morning for declaring a state of emergency in order to deal with its surging homeless population, and the story brings up an interesting point: What’s the best way to discuss this with young children? Jean-Francois Dumont’s I am Bear tackles the subject with grace and sensitivity. Winner of the 2004 Prix Saint-Exupery, Dumont explores how societies often dehumanize the homeless by setting a bear right in the middle of a big (Parisian-esque) city. The bear doesn’t know how he arrived on the streets, or what circumstances led him to sleeping under in cardboard boxes, but there he is, like so many of the urban homeless who’ve become faceless and invisible. There’s a lot going on here – compassion, empathy, plenitude in the face of poverty – and yet the author manages to avoid being didactic by keeping the text simple and straightforward. Hope materializes in the welcoming smile of a little girl who looks beyond the dirt and tatters and sees a bear that reminds her of her own beloved playthings. Dumont’s illustrations highlight the duality of urban life and the willing refusal to see the suffering of those right on our doorsteps. This is a book that grows with children as their world becomes larger and they begin to notice people and things around them. While the girl’s compassion is encouraging, it’s not a panacea: The bear remains homeless, but through empathy grows the possibility for change.

As the holidays approach, and with them the usual Christmas/Kwanza/Hanukkah fare, consider this book as an unexpected, poignant, and relevant alternative to teaching kindness.