Work Title: A Picture Book's Ars Poetica: Delight and Instruct with Insight, Humor, and Illustration
Work Author(s): Elizabeth Breau
Byline: Elizabeth Breau
Writers from Horace to Archibald Macleish have pondered whether literature's main function is to delight or to instruct readers. Assuming the answer lies somewhere in between, this year's crop of children's books yields some delightful ways to instruct on a wide variety of topics. From the spidery haunts of Engelbert Sneem's "Dungeon of Dreams" to earnest exhortations about the dangerously low levels of pink krill in penguin diets and what this might herald for the planet, children's literature astounds, inspires, and educates people of all ages, often all at the same time.
Starting with the whimsical, we quickly see that even books intended primarily to delight sneak in worthwhile facts and ideas. Young children will revel in Chris Monroe's Monkey with a Tool Belt (Carolrhoda Books, 978-0-8225-7631-00). Chimpanzee Chico Bon Bon's preparedness and ingenuity save the day when he is kidnapped by an evil organ grinder. Monroe's detailed drawings add humor when Chico "makes a loud water-buffalo noise with his kazoo;" the accompanying bubble reads, "Uhwoogaa!" This talented writer/artist has also recently published an anthology, Ultraviolet: 10 Years of Violet Days based on his comic character Violet Daze.
Veering further from reality in Engelbert Sneem and his Dream Vacuum Machine (NorthSouth Books, 978-0-7358-2141-4), readers will lurch to the rhythmic verses that describe a madcap nightly journey to plunder the dreams of children: "To a Kingdom of permanent darkness he flies, / Where a restless and rampaging storm fills the skies." There, in the underground Dungeon of Dreams, he stores them for a dark purpose, leaving their former owners doomed to become the "miserable adults you so often see." This whimsical tale of turning bad dreams good by author/illustrator Daniel Postgate will delight readers of all ages.
A sophisticated social satire, Mrs. Marlowe's Mice (Kids Can Press, 978-1-55453-022-9) evokes Art Spiegelman's Maus while retaining the aesthetic charm of an old-fashioned tea. This computer composite, highly stylized world evokes the Gestapo or 1930s gangland America. When police cats Lieutenant Manx and Sergeant Baxter interrupt Mrs. Marlowe's afternoon on charges that she is a "mouse-keeper," the unflappable feline offers hors d'oeuvres and explains that her knitting basket is full of doll-clothes for her niece. Just scary enough to entice an intrepid young reader, this book operates on several levels at once. Frank Asch is a skilled writer with more than sixty children's books to his credit. He and son Devin Asch also collaborated on...