Monday, March 8, 2010

11th March Wanda Gag (1893 - 1946) Ezra Jack Keats (1916 -1983) Jonathan London (1947) Ronda Armitage (1943)

It would seem that if you want to make it in the world of children's books, then the 11th March is a good day to be born! There are four birthdays today, starting with Wanda Gag whose books were among the first picture books that were specifically designed for children. Millions of Cats with its repetitive, rhythmic refrain "hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats" and fancy curly font is a classic, and still in print! If the Caldecott Medal had existed in 1929 it surely would have won, instead of receiving a Newbery Honour Award.

Secondly, someone who also has an enduring reputation, Ezra Jack Keats. He won the Caldecott in 1963 for The Snowy Day. Peter, the main character in this story appears in many of Keats' books, growing older in each one. Peter is an African American child with such endearing physical features and the books depict the simple routines of family life and a multicultural urban setting with great warmth. See A Letter For Amy; Goggles! and Peter's Chair.

Next, another American, Jonathan London. As well as all his Froggy titles he has a series of picture books about animals in the wild which are beautifully illustrated by Jon Van Zyle. My favourites are The Eyes of Gray Wolf and Honey Paw and Lightfoot, perhaps because being about wolves and bears, animals that I have no experience of, I find them fascinating.

The other author, Ronda Armitage was born in New Zealand but now lives in Britain. She is probably best known for The Lighthouse Keeper series of books which are illustrated by her husband, David Armitage. My favourite is still the first book, The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch. I use this series of books with Kindergarten to teach problem/solution. Mr Grinling always seems to have a problem and Mrs Grinling always manages to solve his problems. The vocabulary is rich and the children remember words like 'catastrophe', 'varmints' and 'lackaday'. More recently she has written two books about Small Knight and George which have illustrations by Arthur Robins.

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