Three for Thursday: Obscure Picture Books

So this is an attempt to try my hand at some shorter reviews.  Shorter reviews are useful in that I can do them faster and still give a general impression of a work–so I can do more of them in a given year.  This means more books talked about.  Since time constraints mean my review capacity is limited and there are so many books to talk about, this should give me the means to do so.  I’m hoping to “theme” each group of three so that the titles I discuss are in some way connected, but we’ll see how my new project goes!  Let me know what you think!  For my opening Three for Thursday,  I’m touching on older picture books.  Picture books have a fantastic range of fantasy stories as well as some science fiction–but a lot of them come and go so quickly that they’re never fully appreciated by readers who would love them.  Here’s three titles that are out of print and pretty obscure:

1.

The Giant and the Spring by Kuang-Ts’Ai Hao, illustrated by Eva Wang (Pan Asian Publications, c1994)

Uncle Giant lives in his house on a mountain above the town where he spends much of the time reading and providing the townspeople below with help and answers when they’re in need.  When he finds a tiny boy outside his window during a frigid winter, he brings the little boy inside.  The child is Spring, and his unexpected company delights the lonely giant who cares for him and reads to him.  But Uncle Giant’s love is selfish–he wants to keep Spring with him, and hides the boy’s cloak so he cannot leave.  Winter continues to plague the world outside until the giant relents, realizing Spring cannot be kept, and releases the boy.

It’s a strange tale of the seasons, but a sweet one.  Loving something, but letting it go is an important theme and one worth discussing with children.  But what makes this book so wonderful are the illustrations by Eva Wang.   Beautifully wrought images of this cherubic green-haired child in the bookish home of the giant are fabulously fantastic–it’s almost possible to interpret the entire story through the illustrations rather than the text.  The accompanying text is brief, but gives the structure of the story.  This is the kind of story to read and discuss as you go–the illustrations offer plenty to explore in depth.  It’s worth finding, especially if you love folklore  dealing with the seasons.   Recommended for ages 4 and up, better for one-on-one than a group.

On a search, I was surprised to find this is available for sale as an online interactive book through itunes.  You can find it here.

2.

Baba Yaga and the Wise Doll retold by Hiawyn Oram, illustrated by Ruth Brown. (Dutton Juvenile, 1998)

Too Nice is plagued by her sisters,  Horrid and Very Horrid, who kick her out of the house and tell her they won’t let her back in until she brings them a toad from Baba Yaga.    The poor girl goes in search of the witch and finds her.  Baba Yaga sets the girl three challenges and the girl succeeds with the help of a magical doll that keeps her safe.  In the end, our wicked sisters get their come-uppance and Too Nice finds her own confidence.

I love Baba Yaga tales. This is one of my favorite despite a slight typographical error int he final text.  What really makes the book are the rich illustrations by Ruth Brown.  While the image on the cover is quite good, it’s the images of Baba Yaga herself that are top notch.  Ruth Brown manages to make Baba Yaga frightening and terrifying rather than comically wicked.  And there’s a regality to this Baba Yaga that’s just appealing.  A simple Russian tale that’s fun to read aloud, as long as you don’t mind wicked sisters being eaten by a toad at the end!

baba yaga

3.

Chin Yu Min and the Ginger Cat by Jennifer Armstrong, illustrated by Mary Grandpre (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 1993)

Chin Yu Min is an arrogant and overly-proud wife of a wealthy merchant who looks down on those around her.  When she is suddenly widowed and her wealth drains away, she is too proud to ask for help.  One day she encounters an elegant ginger cat who greets her politely while he fishes out silver fish after silver fish with his long tale.  Chin Yu Min invites the cat to stay with her if he’ll fish for them.  His fishing allows Chin Yu Min to regain her former wealth. But when the cat goes missing, Chin Yu Min quickly discovers that some things are much more precious than money.

The illustrations of Mary Grandpre (Harry Potter book cover fame) and the lyrical and detailed text of Jennifer Armstrong work in tandem to create this charming story.  I fell in love with the ginger cat as he is depicted here, he’s such an elegant and charming fellow!  This wordier text is probably best used for a slightly older audience, especially one that can understand how the widow’s relationship to the cat changes over time from business to friendship.

So there are my three for this Thursday!  You may have to dig around to find them, but I hope you find much to enjoy in them as I did!  Comments Welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on January 16, 2014, in General Posts, Reviews, Three for Thursdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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