Alternate title: How Far Can I Push My Readers?
Heh heh. So you remember when Hugo Cabret won a Caldecott and suddenly all anyone could talk about was whether or not it constituted a "picture book"? And really, what is the definition of a picture book anyway? And so the debate raged, and I’m sure many people have gone back and forth about it. I’m even more certain that there are people out there who refuse to recognize the 2008 Caldecott Award winner, for personal reasons of their own.
Why do I bring this up? Because there is one title on today’s list that was nominated by several people as a picture book, and there would be others (I am certain) who would refuse to refer to it as such. I’m willing to include it because it’s one of those increasingly common titles that cannot be neatly slotted into one definition or another. And as you will see… pictures play a very large role in its creation. Have you guessed what it is yet? Stay tuned.
#70: The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, ill by Michael Martchenko (1980)
19 points (4, 10, 8, 9)
I was torn between this and Munsch’s Millicent and the Wind. The princess wins due to her stubbornness and can-do mentality. – Rebecca Bartlett
Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature referred to The Paper Bag Princess as a "feminist fairy tale" (prefigured by The Practical Princess by Jay Williams, actually). There are many books that join it in this respect. The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke, The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet, etc. But in terms of sheer love… sheer devotion of the readership… I don’t think anyone holds a candle to this tale. It has even done so well that there was a 25th anniversary edition telling "the story behind the story."
Of the various descriptions I’ve seen of the plot, Amazon.com probably summed it up best: "Elizabeth, a beautiful princess, lives in a castle and wears fancy clothes. Just when she is about to marry Prince Ronald, a dragon smashes her castle, burns her clothes with his fiery breath, and prince-naps her dear Ronald. Undaunted and presumably unclad, she dons a large paper bag and sets off to find the dragon and her cherished prince. Once she’s tracked down the rascally reptile, she flatters him into performing all sorts of dragonly stunts that eventually exhaust him, allowing her to rescue Prince Ronald. But what does Prince Not-So-Charming say when he sees her? "You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paper bag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess." (At least he has the courtesy not to mention that the princess’s crown resembles a dying sea anemone.) In any case, let’s just say that Princess Elizabeth and Prince Ronald do not, under any circumstances, live happily ever after."
I just like the "dying sea anemone" line.
Though Mr. Munsch has written countless picture books for kids, his two best known works are this and Love You Forever (and did that book make this list? Only time will tell . . . )
Want a laugh? Look at what comes up when you go to www.thepaperbagprincess.com. Oh, irony. Want another laugh? Plug the title into the Google Image Search. Note the proliferation of Paper Bag Princess costumes . . . on grown women. Culminating, at long last, in a Paper Bag Princess photo shoot. Naturally.
The National Post called it, "A feminist manifesto in children’s book form, and even at six, I was enchanted… kick-ass story."
#69: Miss Fanshawe and the Great Dragon Adventure by Sue Scullard (1986)
20 points (1,1)
Curse and bother! Bother and curse! I knew that this would happen. I knew knew knew it but I was too stubborn to do my homework while I could. Do you know what has just occurred? What has finally happened? We have hit an out-of-print book! And not only is it out-of-print but due to its 1986 publication date there is no place on the web that provides me any images to go along with my post ABOUT said book. There is only one thing to be done. I must go into the deep, dark stacks of the Children’s Center’s Reference collection, find this book, and scan its cover. I should have done this yesterday, but I’d been so lucky so far in this poll that I didn’t deem it necessary. "It’ll be all right", I thought. "I don’t think I’ll need to scan anything at this rate." GAH! Foolish girl.
Fortunately I was able to locate a copy of this book in my library’s stacks. The scans I’ve included here, however, do not do the book any justice. My scanner could only accomodate 1 1/4 pages, rather than the full two. But hopefully these images will give you just a hint of the dizzying wonder that is Miss Fanshawe.
Here’s a taste of the Publishers Weekly synopsis, if you like: "Miss Harriet Fanshawe, the great explorer, has heard about the center of the Earth and the fiery dragons’ breath that keep its fires aflame. While on expedition in Patagonia, she spots a dragon’s nest high up in the mountain. Her only company is Cedric the parrot, her constant companion. Miss Fanshawe carries the dragon’s egg in her butterfly net and lassoes the dragon to take back to England. There he’s put in a cage for everyone to see. A sinister bird appears, carries off the egg and flies away to a distant crater where it vanishes into its darkness. Miss Fanshawe follows along, in an odyssey to the center of the Earth; this proves to be nothing short of apocalyptic. She faces a black leopard, and passes through a monumental corridor of hieroglyphical columns with infinite extensions, where all sense of time and perspective is lost. With the help of the dragon she saves, Miss Fanshawe reverses her journey back to the world of light."
Publishers Weekly said of it, "Unquestionably, this is one of the most stunning adventures of the year . . . Not unlike Cedric the parrot, readers may feel that they too were aboard, traveling from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high."
#68: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, ill. Helen Oxenbury (1989)
20 points (3, 6, 8)
Ahh. That’s better. Here’s one I’m more familiar with. Good old, bear hunt. You’ve gotten me through so many storytimes, and I’ve never really thanked you properly. Now I can. We have about three different versions of this particular take on the tale in my library. First, we have an extremely tiny edition. It’s a Beatrix Potter-sized itty bitty bit of a thang. The kind of book that gets lost on the big shelves if you aren’t careful. Then there’s the regular sized version, which gets stolen by the public on a regular basis due to its popularity. And finally there’s the pop-up version . . . which is awesome. It didn’t last long. Too many tabs to pull and bits to twist, but a beauty from start to finish.
To my infinite surprise, I reviewed this on Amazon back in 2004. Huh. Learn something new every day. Here’s the recap I wrote of it: "If you’ve ever heard the song We’re Going On a Bear Hunt then you know the way the story goes. A father and his rambunctious youngsters are setting out to locate one bear. They’re not actually on a hunt in terms of carrying guns or anything of that sort. In fact, these people haven’t anything with them but one another and the clothes on their backs. With their border collie in tow they successfully cross the tall wavy grass (swishy swashy), ford the deep cold river (splash splosh), tromp through the ooey-gooey mud (squelch squerch), wander through the deep dark forest (stumble trip!), run through a whirling snowstorm (Hoooo woooo), and at last enter a deep dark cave (tiptoe). It’s the dog that sees the malicious bear first and the brave troop run back over every place they’d been before to escape. In a moment of frenzied activity they enter their house only to discover that they’ve forgotten to shut the door. At the last minute they get it closed (angry bear safely outside now) and everyone crawls into bed and under the covers. The final shot in the book is one of the bear as he tromps solemnly homeward again."
It would have been good enough with just the story, but getting Helen Oxenbury to do the pictures was some kind of heaven-sent inspiration. Her pictures play beautifully on both the scary parts of the story, as well as the comfort to be found in it as well. And trust me, this story can be scary. I tell "We’re Going on a Bear Hunt" in my storytimes and I remember one little girl who clasped her hands tightly over her ears and refused to listen to a word. Clearly she was suffering from a bear hunt trauma of some sort. For most kids, however, they dig it.
School Library Journal said of it, "Readers and listeners will delight in this imaginative pursuit over and over again."
Publishers Weekly added, "It’s a fantastic journey–was it real or imagined?–with the family’s actions (and interaction) adding to the trip a goodnatured, jolly mood."
Now here’s a treat. It’s Michael Rosen performing the book, sans book. This performance, to put it bluntly, makes my own look like a pile of poo.
Wow. That’s how it’s done, people. That is how it is done.
#67: The Arrival by Shaun Tan (2006)
20 points (#2 & #2 & #9)
Did you guess correctly? Did you know what book I was referring to at the beginning of this post when I said that one of these books isn’t your normal run-of-the-mill picture book? I bet some of you clever dickens did. After all, it was nominated.
So is it a picture book? Well, let’s see. It tells a story entirely with pictures and not a single word (or, at least, not a single word we can understand). You might call it a graphic novel too, except it eschews thought bubbles and speech balloons. Yet it does break itself into panels quite often… but can’t the same be said of many picture books, like The Adventures of Polo and the like? Is there an age limit to it? Maybe (there are some scary scenes) but when do children stop reading picture books? Many read them for years, though often on the sly when around peers or siblings.
I hereby proclaim that until someone can pin down a definite genre for a book as amazing, miraculous, and downright fun as The Arrival, here it shall remain on this Top 100 Books poll.
My review back in the day of it said this about the plot: "A man prepares to leave his family for a new world. Tearfully they let him go as he boards a ship for another land. Once he arrives, however, he finds himself at a loss. Everything from the language to the buildings to the birds is strange here. The reader of this book sympathizes easily with the man since author/illustrator Shaun Tan has created a world that is just as odd to us as it is to our protagonist. Appliances consist of confusing pulls and toggles. People live and work in plate and cone-shaped structures, traveling via dirigibles and strange ship-shaped machinations of flight. As the man proceeds to discover how to find lodging, food, and work, he meets other immigrants who tell their own stories of hardship and escape. Through all this, our man grows richer for his experiences and even grows to love the odd little white-legged cat-sized tadpole creature that follows him everywhere. By the end, his family has arrived as well and the last image in the book is of his daughter as she helps another immigrant get directions in this dazzling and magnificent city."
Are there those amongst ye who have not read this book? Then go to it. I could wax rhapsodic for days on end about the power and beauty of this story, but I’ll let the experts do it for me.
The New York Times said of it, " ‘The Arrival’ tells not an immigrant’s story, but the immigrant’s story. . . The effect is mesmerizing. Reading ‘The Arrival’ feels like paging through a family treasure newly discovered up in the attic."
Booklist said, "Filled with subtlety and grandeur, the book is a unique work that not only fulfills but also expands the potential of its form."
The Washington Post said, "Hundreds of sepia-toned drawings, some tiny, some panoramic, all pulsing with detail, combine to produce an effect reminiscent of silent movies or mime, the absence of words forcing the eye and the brain to work harder."
And Kirkus said, "It’s an unashamed paean to the immigrant’s spirit, tenacity and guts, perfectly crafted for maximum effect."
As of this post, Shaun Tan has still not had a chance to visit Ellis Island. And any questions you might have about the book could probably be answered here.
#66: Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni (1959)
20 points (3 votes, #1, #5, #7)
Abstract art with a heart. And someone said it couldn’t be done. If we listen carefully enough, even torn pieces of paper have something to tell us. – Candace Ryan
Everyone just take a moment to process what Candace has written here. I doubt anyone could say it better.
As the story goes, Mr. Lionni created this book while on a train ride with his two grandchildren. After the trip was over he spun the tale into this book, beginning his new career as a children’s picture book author/illustrator. Prior to that he had been an art director for Fortune magazine.
From my ancient, creaky, misspelled Amazon review (corrected here), "The tale follows two blobs of color. One is Blue. The other is Yellow. Yellow and Blue are good friends and lead productive blobby lives with their other little friends. They play games, attend school, etc. One day Blue looses Yellow for a little while and when they are reunited they hug until they meld into a single splotch of green. The single green splotch, however, looks nothing like Blue or Yellow. Whatever will our intrepid heroes do? Suffice it to say, all turns out well in the end."
I guess that I was surprised to find that this book beat Lionni’s other title on this list, Swimmy. I always thought that people would take to Swimmy more, but obviously this is not the case. For kicks, you may read the whole book here.
After all, Horn Book called it, "An unusual, imaginative, stimulating, and appealing picture book."