Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Desert island picturebooks

A new challenge from Philip Nel, and the first element of the challenge is spelling. (For the unitiated, it is a neverending battle).

Like Philip, I know "Top ten" etc is highly subjective; in fact, I am involved in a research project on exactly this matter, but that's another story. I think I must also make a difference between books that I cannot live without (desert island books) and books that I would recommend to a novice. I can live without Peter Rabbit, but I wouldn't omit it from a reading list.

Actually, I am not sure I would take picturebooks to a desert island. They are too short. I'd take ten books of 800 pages each. (A friend once asked, when we were playing this game, whether Collected Works of Shakespeare counted as one book).

However, if I were to choose ten indispensible picturbooks (in fact, I did once choose ten indispensible picturebooks, in my book on picturebooks, but it was ten years ago, and books ahv changed and I have changed), there wouldn't be a single common denominator with Philip's books - so that we can swim from island to island and exchange, making it twenty between ourselves.

Here we go.

1. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak. The picturebook. Predictable, I know, but I cannot imagine how you can talk about picturebooks without starting there. Every time I re-read it, I find something new. Every time I approach it with a new tool, it just opens into new dimensions. In other words, if I am only allowed one picturebook on my island, that's it.

2. The Tunnel, Anthony Browne. Everything you want from a picturebook is there: simple story and complex narrative, clever and emotional, all kinds of complex relationships, incredibly rich imagery, irony and self-irony. Profound book.

3. Pancakes for Findus, Sven Nordqvist. It's my favourite Findus and Pettson book, but all of them are equally brilliant. Witty, clever, rich in details, warm, but never losing the complexity of relationships.

4. Little Blue and Little Yellow, Leo Lionni. Amazing what you can do with characters who do not even have faces.

5, Granpa, John Burningham. Piercing story in which words stop when they no longer can express the feelings.

6. The Red Tree, Shaun Tan. Could be The Lost Thing too, but The Red Tree is deeper in meaning, emotional appeal and visual language.

7. Who will comfort Toffle? Tove Jansson. Again, a hard choice between her books, but this is my favourite. Brilliant visual language, and such a magnificent story.

8. Me and my Cat, Satoshi Kitamura. Just to be original - everybody else will choose Lily Takes a Walk. Excellent illustration of how words and images work together.

9. Visit of Little Death, Kitty Crowther. In tough competition, the best picturebook about death. Even better than Granpa.

10. OK, I give in. The Cat in the Hat. Loved it long before I knew what a picturebook was.

Welcome to my island.

And if you want to know more about my favourite books, visit my bookshelf.


Philip Nel said...

Thanks for the list! Incidentally, I (perhaps too literally) interpreted the question as "picture books I personally would want if I were stuck on a desert island." If I were making a list of "best" picture books, I'd definitely include Where the Wild Things Are. Little Blue and Little Yellow and The Tunnel are an great choices, too! I thought about both Lionni & Browne, but couldn't decide which book from each. Confess I do not know the books by Nordqvist, Crowther, and Kitamura.

Such lists are inherently subjective, but I nonetheless enjoy learning about people's favorite books. So, thanks again for sharing.

Ayelle said...

"Actually, I am not sure I would take picturebooks to a desert island. They are too short. I'd take ten books of 800 pages each"

This is always my reaction to this question! Despite the fact that my primary loyalty is to children's lit, I'd bring Bleak House, David Copperfield, War and Peace, Middlemarch... I haven't even read the last two, but I would rather gamble on a book I haven't read (but have been meaning to) than risk not having enough to read on the desert island...

I always have to remind myself that that isn't really what the question is about!

Maria Nikolajeva said...

Aagain, as I said, I probably wouldn't bring picturebooks to a desert island, but I would, among ten books I cannot live without, bring Winnie-the-Pooh, The Little Prince and King Matt the First. Will write a post on these.