5 Picture Books (and one short film) That Capture The Moment by Ian Lendler
True story: One morning, my 4-year-old son was sleeping in my bed (it was one of those nights). Sometime before 5 am, he whispered, “Daddy, what day is it?” I mumbled that it was Saturday.
At that point, he leapt out of bed and shouted, “Hooray! It’s Saturday! A stay-at-home day!”
As I cowered under my pillow, some part of my pre-coffee brain registered that this was actually a pretty good opening for a picture book. Now, a few years later, it is the opening line of my newest picture book, Saturday.
Okay, the shameless self-promotion part is over, so I can get to my point. While writing the book, I started to realize what Saturday meant to my son. As much as we think of children as leading lives of freedom and unfettered self-expression, nothing could be further from the truth. Children are constantly in day-care or school or being shuttled from chore to chore. And everywhere there are rules.
Saturday meant the same to him as it does to most grown-ups (minus the margaritas). It was the one moment in the week when he finally had the free time (and help from parents who didn’t have to hustle to work) to live out his imagination.
It occurred to me that this idea of “moments” is turning into a growing genre of picture books, books that compile snapshots of life-moments and turn them into a scrapbook of the childhood experience.
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
Fortunately, The Quiet Book doesn’t need any extra publicity from me. It’s a NYT-bestseller; it’s on sales counters at every art-supply I visit. Despite this, I still don’t think it’s properly appreciated as the work of art that it is. Simply put: this is one of the best picture books ever written. When I first read it, it blew my mind.
There’s no plot, no story, no main character. So then what is it? It’s a greatest hits compilation of those moments I life when we pause, retreat into ourselves (whether out of fear, love, or wonder) and re-emerge as better, more interesting people. It’s a catalogue of the moments that shape our souls.
I can’t think of a more beautiful reason to read or write a children’s picture book.
At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin
What better response can there be to the We Need Diversity movement than this? To suggest that any moment you have is not yours alone, but something that you share with others all over the planet. So a child sips hot chocolate before school in Paris at the same time that a boy in Senegal helps his father gather fish and a girl shops with her mother in Iraq. Without a single didactic moment or preachy aside, this book’s compilation of moments moves us beyond geography and into a sense of our shared humanity.
The Silver Button by Bob Graham
One of the great things about this style of book is the range of formal invention. So while At The Same Moment… takes us around the world in one hour, The Silver Button takes us around town in less than a second. Literally.
A toddler stands and takes its first step and then…the book’s “camera” pulls further and further out, showing us the toddler’s family, the neighborhood, the people in the park outside, all the relationships that are interwoven and interconnected in that one instant before the toddler takes…its second step.
This “frozen moment” is a standard trick of sport-journalism, but transposed into a picture book, it takes on the heightened poignancy of pausing a moment that every person wishes they could hold on to forever– a parent seeing their child take a first step; a child starting its journey into the wide world beyond.
When Dad Showed Me The Universe by Ulf Stark
A favorite in my household. A boy takes a walk with his father at night and sees the world through his father’s eyes. In structure, this book has a lot in common with Last Stop on Market Street (in fact, a-day-out-with-authority-figure is an entirely distinct genre of picture book).
But what is the father showing the boy? Not much. The grass, a puddle, the stars in the sky. Does the boy understand anything the dad is talking about? Not really.
But the point is besides the point (so to speak). Listening to the wind, looking at the stars, smelling the dog poo the dad just stepped in(!), these moments of Zen between a father and a son on a hill under the starry night-sky are the sort that stay with you the rest of your life.
No, David! by David Shannon
Like The Quiet Book, No David! doesn’t need my help to sell more copies (that’s why I stuck it down here at the end). But I’m including it because it’s a great example of this genre of moments. In this case, the cheeky moments, the defiant moments, the troublesome moments that, when bundled together, add up to something greater than its parts. No, David! is the entire experience of childhood sandwiched between two covers.
Life In A Tin Can
Okay, so I’m pretty sure this is heresy for a blog about books, but I have to end this discussion by showing you this short film. For one, because Bruno Bozzetto is one of the great animators of all time, but also because there’s zero difference between picture books, graphic novels, and animation. They are all simply different forms of visual storytelling.
[Warning: Bozzetto is Italian. As such, this film features dated electronic music, heavy Catholicism, and a very brief breast.]
Spoiler: In case you’re at work or are simply too lazy to watch, I’ll let you in on the film’s main conceit. Childhood is filled with zen moments of heart-breaking beauty (like stopping to watch a butterfly). But as we get older, the endless hustle and grind of the grown-up world wears down our ability to pause and enjoy these butterfly moments.
Fortunately, some picture books are starting to recapture them for us.
Ian Lendler has written several books for both young readers and adults, including An Undone Fairytale and First Second’s own The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth. He is originally from Connecticut and, after living all over the world, has settled in San Rafael, California, with his wife and two children.