Nothing makes you look more closer at children’s books than having a child of your own. My son is just about to turn one year old in a couple weeks and I have my fingers, toes and eyes crossed in hopes that he will grow up as big a fan of reading and literature as I am. We’ve built an impressive collection of children’s books for him so far, but at this stage he is far to wiggly to sit and let us read to him. While we wait for him to calm down a little, I am enjoying my search for children’s books I feel strike the right balance between educational and entertaining, which these following two books do nicely.
When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly and When I am Not Myself are come from author and illustrator Kathy DeZarn Beynette. The first is a cleverly developed series of poems about animals which helps to teach young readers about common courtesies, manners and empathy for all animals (including the human ones). The second volume returns to form with a poem on each page about animals learning that it is OK to be different and those are the very things that make us special.
With When Your Porcupine Feels Prickly, Beynette uses her unique and childlike art to subtly send her message. In each page amongst the animals you will find one with a human face. It’s her way of reminding us that we are still part of the same animal kingdom and the ones who may not be able to talk or express themselves to our understanding still deserve our respect and empathy. My favorite piece in here was on the page titled ‘Bird’:
Remove your hat when you talk to your bird
though this may be contrary to what you’ve heard).
It shows that you trust him, it shows her respect;
it shows you don’t think you’ll be pooped on or pecked.
Notice that Beynette changed the gender in that third line, which I believe is another effort to show the lack of difference between how we should treat the differing sexes.
In When I am Not Myself, Beynette uses this adorable book to re-enforce to the youngest of us all that it is OK to be different, quirky and stand out. It displays different situations on each page, acted out with different animals, and lays out in rhyme how they handle their way through it. Some are soft and sweet, while others are more whimsical, but together they send a clear message about not feeling alone when you’re down. She brings it home on the last page when she stops using animals and just delivers a poem about ‘myself’.
Her artistic style is a welcome retreat from the overly bright, hyper-colored and thoroughly sterilized artwork seen in many children’s books. It connects in a more pure way by showing them images that look like their own, a truly childlike style. This isn’t a knock at all on her talent, because let’s be honest, it takes real skill to paint like a kid when you aren’t one.
Both of these are going into our mildly overwhelming library of children’s books, and I can guarantee they will dogeared by the time my son is off to school.