Saturday, December 8, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea #4: A Charming Import

There's something magical about books from faraway places. Perspectives on life are just a bit different and lend a whimsical touch to familiar subjects -- and to unusual ones. Here are seven gems that travelled this year across the pond from England and France and into U.S. bookstores.

From England:

Dick Bruna's I Can Count, Round, Square, Triangle and My Vest is White , by Dick Bruna, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $7.95 each, ages 2 and up, 28 pages, 2012. Bold, crisp colors and clean, simple lines make learning to count, and identifying basic colors and shapes a snap -- in this compact trio by a renowned Dutch author.

Bruna's graphics are warm and welcoming, and unclutter the mind to learn. Bruna's work, by way of an earlier series, has a tender spot in my heart. When I was 2, my grandmother gave me Dick Bruna's The Sailor (A Toy Box Tale) about a sailor boy who sailed his toy ship to a land of ice and snow. To this day, when I think of books that made me feel cozy and secure as a small child, Bruna's pops into memory. Best part: The clarity of the message, owed to Bruna's smart use of primary colors and thick, black lines.

The Sailor from childhood; a Dick Bruna garland on Etsy.

Goldilocks (Pop-Up Book), by Allan Ahlberg, illustrations by Jessica Ahlberg, Walker, $17.99, ages 5 and up, 40 pages, 2012. A witty retelling in which Goldilocks dines on Choco Pops instead of porridge, and meets 33 bears, an odd-talking Blim and the three little pigs on her search for porridge. Whimsical plot twists, quaint pictures, and clever pull tabs and flaps by an award-winning storyteller and his daughter. Best part: All the little interactive features inside, from a tiny picture dictionary that defines silly words to a diminutive book that presents a stage play of Goldilocks at the village playhouse -- "Marvel at the naughtiness! Gasp at the Scariness! Eat the buns!" a playbill announces.

A pop-up of the Bears' cottage within the stage play.

Jonathon & Martha, by Petr Horacek, Phaidon, $14.95, ages 3 and up, 40 pages, 2012. Two lonely worms living on opposite sides of a tree find love when they meet at the middle of a big, juicy pear, in this UK Picture Book of the Year. Neither worm realizes the other worm is nibbling into the pear from the opposite side, and at first they want to fight over whose pear it really is. But in the process of tussling, they become knotted together, and are forced to work together and share. Then one day a crow swoops down and munches off their tails, which doesn't hurt for long but separates them from the tangle. Only now they don't ever want to be apart and wiggle off happily ever after. Best part: Horacek's charming use of two little holes punched into the pages for the worms to wiggle through. This is especially effective when the worms try to get away from the crow by diving into their holes.

Entangled and content.

The Table That Ran Away to the Woods, by Stefan Themerson, illustrated by Franciszka Themerson, Tate Publishing (Abrams), $10.95, 20 pages,  2012. A writing desk runs away to the woods to grow back into a tree, in this joyful 1963 poem, translated for the first time from Polish to English. One day, a writing desk "grabbed two pairs of shoes / ran downstairs, and took flight" out of the author's house with him and his wife in pursuit.  As it raced through the countryside, the desk slowly reclaimed its original existence, growing leaves and rooting into the ground. The story, first published in 1940 in a Polish newspaper then recreated in this collage version in 1963, is a celebration of renewal and the natural world. (The Themersons were Polish avant-garde artists and filmmakers who fled to London in the 1940s.) Best part: Every bit of it, but especially an image of the desk bounding toward the forest like an excited puppy with its legs splayed out.

From France:

Pomelo Explores Color, by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud, Enchanted Lion, $15.95, ages 3 and up, 120 pages, 2012. When everything in the world goes black and white, a pink elephant discovers all of the ways that color colours his life. In this charming followup to the acclaimed Pomelo Begins to Grow, Pomelo the garden elephant explores 12 colors that affect his mood and make his life adventurous. He finds comfort in white while curling up under a fluffy ball of dandelion seeds. He rejoices in orange as a shower of shredded carrots pile up around him. He sees the romance of pink when two slugs kiss: their cheeks grow rosy, pink stars explode around them and their dangly eyes twirl around each other's. A quirky exploration of color with signature French humor: as Pomelo works his way through yellow, he marvels at all the yellows of "wee-wee."  Best part: When Pomelo sticks his trunk into a black hole and peers in at "The shadowy blue of the Unknown."

Pomelo discovers blue and white.

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