RIP Maurice Sendak. The author/illustrator's unique gifts for visually representing the power of imagination, conveying rich experiences with brevity and balancing childlike wonder with the growing pains of youth will be sorely missed.
Though we've probably read Where the Wild Things Are together more than 100 times, my five-year-old son still gets a kick out of it. Perhaps he delights too much in Max's threat to his mother, "I'll eat you up!" Indeed, he has threatened me several times with a similar cannibalistic fate soon after a re-reading. What have you unleashed on my personage, Mr. Sendak?
Sendak is not the only children's author who has become a firm favourite on the fit-to-burst shelves that line the walls of the living room, my home office and both my son's bedrooms. Here's a rundown of a few others whose books are at the risk of falling apart from overuse:
He and his brother, Hal, are best known for their wonderful ode to boyhood, The Dangerous Book for Boys, and Conn has done very well with his many historical fiction titles. Yet he's at his best in Tollins and Tollins 2: Dynamite Tales. Tollins are little winged creatures (not to be confused with fairies, who they frequently squish and sometimes use as hankies) who live under Chorleywood station, and fight for survival against the plots of the 'men with beards' who want to stuff them into fireworks and the malevolent Dark Tollins of Dorset (side note: my family lives in Dorset, so I appreciate the local connection). Illustrator Lizzie Duncan has to take a lot of credit, too - her visual representations of the Tollins fit perfectly with Iggulden's vivid descriptions of the tiny mythical folk. Now stop messing around with adult-focused epics, Mr. Iggulden, and get on with Tollins 3!
We have many of Mr. Lobels books, including Mouse Tale, Uncle Elephant and Fables, but the Frog and Toadseries are his finest. Frog is the sunny optimist, always up for an adventure, full of beans, and enthusiastic about everything. His best friend, Toad, on the other hand, is a crotchety curmudgeon who would rather be in bed than out seeing the world (nothing like Mr. Toad from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows). My son's favourite moments in these books? When Toad, exasperated with himself or Frog, yells "Drat" in disgust, and clambers back under his bedcovers.
Okay, I know it's not exactly original to put him on such a shortlist, but Mr. Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator and The BFG are go-to choices in our house. Dr. Seuss is the most lauded children's writer when it comes to creative word play, but Dahl runs him pretty close. Yesterday, I was washing dishes when my son asked me, "Daddy, what would happen if the Bloodbottler got into our house and started eating people?" The Bloodbottler, of course, is one of the giants who menaces the BFG and survives on a diet of "human beans [beings]." I suspect such a character and Mr. Dahl's contempt for authority figures have drawn fire from the political correctness crowd in recent times, but when it comes to creating memorable character names, expressing the often gaping divide between adults and children and showing that sentence construction doesn't have to be a bore, he's hard to beat. And a pat on the back for Dahl's fine illustrator, Quentin Blake.
What are some of your favorite children's authors and why? I'd welcome your feedback via the comments section. I'll post again soon with some of my two-year-old's top picks.