An informal group of writers and illustrators has been meeting in and around Ann Arbor since the 1980s. Though a number of members have respected publishing careers, the group doesn’t have a name, and the only thing that unites it, besides geography, is that all the members make children’s literature. Four of them will be appearing at Nicola’s Books with their new works on June 8.
Nancy Shaw’s Sheep in a Jeep: 5-Minute Stories is a collection of her series of eight picture books (illustrated by Margot Apple), ranging from Sheep Trick or Treat to Sheep Go to Sleep. A ludicrous premise with simple, clever rhymes makes the original Sheep in a Jeep my favorite of the bunch (and one that I read a lot to my daughter when she was a toddler). With their “jeep in a heap,” what are woolly friends to do? “Sheep weep.” And we giggle. The others don’t quite capture the same magic as the original, but they’re delightful nonetheless and charmingly packaged in a comforting, puffy hardcover book.
The Secrets of Ninja School, written and illustrated by Deb Pilutti, tells the story of Ruby, a ninja-in-training who doesn’t have a knack for stealth, athleticism, or patience. A favorite with my seven-year-old, it tells the story of Ruby’s perseverance and eventual triumph with simple and exuberant illustrations with strong lines and a mostly primary color scheme. There’s also a craft activity at the end, for those who don’t mind cutting pages out of a hardcover (gasp).
Debbie Gonzales’s Girls with Guts! falls into the category of books that adults feel good about giving to children. Unlike most books in that category, this one was actually a hit with my kid. Structured as a collection of mini-biographies of some dozen women in sports history, it highlights the progress of women and girls in their fight for the right to play.
I first encountered Tracy Gallup’s work in 2011 when a friend gave me A Roomful of Questions. The haunting watercolor illustrations have stayed with me for nearly a decade. She recently illustrated My First Book of Haiku Poems, Esperanza Ramirez-Christensen’s translation of haikus by Japanese masters. The poems are printed in English and Japanese (with transliterations for you to butcher the pronunciation). Though far less dark than the illustrations in A Roomful of Questions, these share its uncanny respect for the complexity of childhood.
Gallup’s new book, Paint the Night, is published by the Ann Arbor District Library’s Fifth Avenue Press. In it, she deftly allows wet paint to bleed into the paper in shapes that evoke the scary images a child’s mind conjures at night. She then imagines the child using imagination to repaint a friendlier picture.
From ninjas and sheep to stories for sleep, girl power tales and haikus about snails–these stories have the potential to spark the imagination of any kid (or kid at heart).