In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Where's the bathroom?

Dear Annie,

I'm so glad Fabienne has talked about the Scheffler/Donaldson books.  She has also solved a little mystery at the store.  I sometimes get direct imports from England through one particular distributor (this is how I keep all the Shirley Hughes Alfie books in stock).  Recently, I've had a little four-page vinyl bath book called Katie the Kitten.  It struck me as odd that Scheffler would be illustrating a bath book -- but now I know it's a pared-down version of one of the books Fabienne is talking about.  It all fits!

Holly's guest post on maps got me thinking about visuals and history, and I wanted to talk about
A Street Through Time
by Anne Millard, illustrated by Steve Noon, a golden oldie at the store.  It's a magical book that can engage a five year-old or a 12 year-old -- or a grown-up.  It's a series of annotated illustrations of the same fictional bend in a river,  somewhere in the British Isles, starting with 10,000 BC and progressing on up to the present.

Here's the first

Small descriptions march around the edges, and objects within the picture are labeled.  I don't know if it's possible to enlarge this picture enough to see him, but below the highest tree to the right of center, a time traveler with a telescope is looking at the scene.  He's in every picture -- a Waldo to search for.  The early pictures show the growth of the agricultural community, the explosion of architecture in Roman times, and Roman ruins flanking later agricultural settlement.  Then multi-story buildings make a comeback:

and then:

Part of the effectiveness of this book is that the point of view is always the same, so the comparison among the pictures is clear.  This author/illustrator pair did three other books, focusing on a port, cities, and farms.  But none of the others kept the static viewpoint, and they're not nearly as effective.

A history-obsessed child can enjoy this.  Someone who's just learning to read can get a lot out of it.  A very visual kid who's not so enthusiastic about lots of words can still learn a lot.  It's fascinating.

After I'd been selling this book for several years, one young customer who loved it told me a new fact I hadn't known: every illustration has a historically accurate bathroom somewhere within it -- usually in use.  You just have to search for it.



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