“Attention spans are changing. It’s very noticeable. I am very aware that the kind of books I read in my childhood kids now won’t be able to read. I was reading Kipling and PG Wodehouse and Shakespeare at the age of 11. The kind of description and detail I read I would not put in my books. I don’t know how much you can fight that because you want children to read. So I pack in excitement and plot and illustrations and have a cliffhanger every chapter. Charles Dickens was doing cliffhangers way back when. But even with all the excitement you have to make children care about the characters.”
-Cressida Cowell in The Telegraph
It’s hard to know what to say about this. She’s probably right, of course, and what that means for the future is too horrible to ponder, so it’s easier to look on the bright side in this case. To focus on the fact that if kids can’t handle age-appropriate complexity now, the world of the future will be populated by people for whom complexity of the kind offered only in literature will have quietly disappeared, is just not a happy-making thing, is it?
So here’s all that we can do. Here are some of the children’s books on our shelf today:
Prue McKeel’s life is ordinary. At least until her baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows. And then things get really weird.
You see, on every map of Portland, Oregon, there is a big splotch of green on the edge of the city labeled “I.W.” This stands for “Impassable Wilderness.” No one’s ever gone in—or at least returned to tell of it.
And this is where the crows take her brother.
So begins an adventure that will take Prue and her friend Curtis deep into the Impassable Wilderness. There they uncover a secret world in the midst of violent upheaval, a world full of warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. And what begins as a rescue mission becomes something much bigger as the two friends find themselves entwined in a struggle for the very freedom of this wilderness.
A wilderness the locals call Wildwood.
Wildwood is a spellbinding tale full of wonder, danger, and magic that juxtaposes the thrill of a secret world and modern city life. Original and fresh yet steeped in classic fantasy, this is a novel that could have only come from the imagination of Colin Meloy, celebrated for his inventive and fantastic storytelling as the lead singer of the Decemberists. With dozens of intricate and beautiful illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis, Wildwood is truly a new classic for the twenty-first century.
It has illustrations and cliffhangers and plot and excitement. And yet. Yet, it’s a really good book. So, it’s okay.
The summer of 1899 is hot in Calpurnia’s sleepy Texas town, and there aren’t a lot of good ways to stay cool. Her mother has a new wind machine, but instead, Callie’s contemplating cutting off her hair, one sneaky inch at a time. She’s also spending a lot of time at the river with her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist. But just when Callie and her grandfather are about to make an amazing discovery, the reality of Callie’s situation catches up with her. She’s a girl at the turn of the century, expected to cook and clean and sew. What a waste of time. Will Callie ever find a way to take control of her own destiny?
The Earthmen came by the handful, then the hundreds, then the millions. They swept aside the majestic, dying Martian civilization to build their homes, shopping malls, and cities. Mars began as a place of boundless hopes and dreams, a planet to replace an Earth sinking into waste and war. It became a canvas for mankind’s follies and darkest desires. Ultimately, the Earthmen who came to conquer the red-gold planet awoke to discover themselves conquered by Mars. Lulled by its ancient enchantments, the Earthmen learned, at terrible cost, to overcome their own humanity. Rendered in gorgeous, full-color art by Dennis Calero, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation graphically translates fourteen of Bradbury’s famous interconnected science-fiction stories, turning an unforgettable vision of man and Mars into an unforgettable work of art.
“Martin, in her children’s book debut, delivers images of meditative calm; in each spread, blocks of translucent color fill in the background, leaving the contours of the pictures’ subjects—hands playing instruments, bodies, buildings—outlined by the white space that remains. Martin succeeds in capturing a world of sound using only visual cues.”
“Imbued with quiet effervescence, this wordless picture book imagines a child-sized paradise in which dreamy scenes unfold one after another. The Tolmans, a Dutch father-and-daughter team, draw the central tree–with a marvelous, many-storied tree house in its branches–in rich umber; it maintains the same size, shape, and position throughout, though the details in and around it vary widely. A polar bear swims up first, and a brown bear follows by boat. As the two read, an enormous flock of flamingoes appears, and the spread turns pink. Some roost in the branches, until a rhinoceros bumps the trunk, dislodging them. (The jostling is shown by reproducing the image of the tree house about a quarter inch off, creating a vibrational effect.) The rhino is welcomed, more bears appear, as do a peacock and a hippo, and soon the tree house is pleasantly crowded. It’s Noah’s Ark undone, with no traumatic flood, no tidy matched pairs, and no need for olive branches. Readers of all ages will want to return to this treasure box of images again and again.”
There is a house,
a napping house,
where everyone is sleeping.
“Everyone,” in this case is a snoring granny, a dreaming child, a dozing dog, a snoozing cat, a slumbering mouse… and a wakeful flea! Uh-oh. Looks like the napping house won’t be napping for long. With their very own brand of humor, Audrey Wood and Don Wood create an appealing bedtime book compatible with Margaret Wise Brown’s classic Goodnight Moon. …With its rhythmic, repetitive text and witty pictures in shades of ever-brightening blues and greens (as the night turns to day), is sure to be a winner with preschool insomniacs. The sleepy household congregates on Granny’s bed, slowly building a very relaxed pile of bodies in shifting positions. Young readers will enjoy tracking the critters as they make their way, one by one, to the bed–and then guessing what will happen when the wakeful flea joins the heap.
In print for almost 30 years!
And, yes, we also have some of these:
Make ’em read, please. We can’t afford the alternative.