Archives for posts with tag: The Treasure

Picture Book Vitamins

Part II of II


“When I am brought low by the vicissitudes of life, I stumble to my bookshelves. I take a little dose of Zemach or Shulevitz. I grab a short of Goffstein or Marshall. I medicate myself with Steig or Sendak, and the treatment works. I always feel much better.”        Arnold Lobel

One of the primary reasons many of us write is that we have experienced time and time again the medicinal pleasures of reading. We’ve read books that opened new doors. Read books that reminded us we were not alone. Books that made us laugh during a difficult time. Books that made us cry when we desperately needed release.

The following picture books always made me feel better and sparked renewed energy to write.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT by Saxton Freymann & Joost Elffers. (Levine Books, 2005): This book of literal food play always brings me a smile, and reminds me even the most ordinary object or thought can become so much more if you let you mind explore.

GOLDIE THE DOLLMAKER by M.B. Goffstein. (Farrar, 1969): I didn’t discover this book until several years after its publication. But when I did it became THE book supporting my desire for a life in the arts and continues to remind why I write.

“A Good Picture Book Should” by Arnold Lobel in CELEBRATING CHILDREN’S BOOKS edited by Betsy Hearne and Marilyn Kaye. (Lothrop, 1981).

SELMA by Jutta Bauer. (Kane/Miller, 2003): This miniature picture book honors those who find contentment in their daily lives.

THE STORY OF FERDINAND by Munro Leaf. Illus. by Robert Lawson. (Viking, 1938): Quite simply, this classic reminds me that all I have to be is exactly who I am.

THE TREASURE told by Uri Shulevitz. (Farrar, 1978): This beautifully written retelling of a folktale affirms honoring our dreams, the journey, and the reality that our greatest treasures our within our daily lives.

No matter what picture books are in your literary medicine cabinet, the reasons they are there remind us of what our young audience wants. Support, not scolding. New experiences, not lectures. And always, a sense of connection, not division.


            As much as we like to denigrate clichés, they ARE clichés because they hold some truth.  How writers explore and refine these truths is the process of art.

Cliche’ –                “The grass is always greener on the other side.”


                                  Looking for it all over the place

                                  three years

                                  carrying it all the time like a baby.    

                                  from ASIAN FIGURES by W. S. Merwin.  

                                  Atheneum, 1980. (p 5)


THE TREASURE (a Hebrew foltkale) retold by Uri Shulevitz in his Caldecott Honor Book of 1978.   

             Isaac dreams that if he goes to the capitol city and digs beneath the end of the bridge he will find riches.  The bridge guard laughs.  The guard had a dream that if he went to the house of a poor man named Isaac and dug under the stove he would find a fortune.  A dejected Isaac returns home.  Digs under his stove, and finds a treasure.            

             No matter the genre or form, it is the classic journey of leaving home only to discover that what one is looking for was at home all along.  Still, the journey is vital to the eventual realization and sense of gratitude.  It CAN be left as merely cliché’ or transformed into engaging picture books.  Or, for that matter, books of any genre for any age.

THE MOST PERFECT SPOT by Diane Goode. (HarperCollins, 2006).            

            Set in Brooklyn in the late 1930s to early 1940s, a young boy invites his mother to have a picnic in “the most perfect spot.”  They venture out only to experience one minor calamity after another.  Their journey is hard, or at least very inconvenient.  In the end, a wet, muddied and exhausted boy and mother return to their apartment—”the most perfect spot!”  One of the wonderful elements of Goode’s text is that she allows (indeed, points to) the unexpected and unexplained: “But…suddenly, and who knows why…”

            Logic in fiction is as illusive as logic in life.  Still, the story continues.

MOUSE SOUP by Arnold Lobel (HarperCollins,1977).            

             In this popular book the main characters in the story “Two Large Stones” are (exactly that) two large stones on the side of a hill.  They long for life on the other side of the hill.  And, while they are not able to make the physical journey to enlightenment, a mouse makes the journey for them.             

             As another cliché’ goes, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”