By Erin Newcomb
One of the ways that I discover great children’s books is through author studies; so if I happen upon a text that my toddler and I love at story hour or on the library shelves, I request all of the works by the same author. We’ve found some of our favorite writers and illustrators this way. Working through an author’s corpus is like getting to know a new friend, where each book gives us more insight into the author’s themes and style. Focusing on a single creator also introduces children to the creative process, helping them understand that there is an artist at work behind the stories and pictures we love. Right now we’re looking at award-winning author and illustrator Lois Ehlert’s collection, books defined by bold, bright colors, collage-style illustrations that focus on form (and sometimes change the way we look at simple shapes), and a love of nature. Although it’s difficult for me to determine my favorites from such an outstanding selection, here are three of Ehlert’s books that are on my mind today.
Ehlert’s book Hands features a vibrant yellow work glove on the cover. The story details the kinds of work the narrator’s parents do with their hands, her father in his workshop, her mother at her sewing machine, and both in the garden. Filled with images of tools—rulers, pencils, wrenches, sewing notions—opening this book is like stumbling into a delightful studio replete with treasures to hold and mold and create. The narrator shares in the handiwork of her parents and unearths new ways to use her own hands to make beautiful, useful things. This is the story of the artist inside all of us, and the satisfaction that comes from working with our hands.
In another artistic treasure, Market Day: A Story Told with Folk Art, Ehlert employs her signature collage style to tell a rhyming tale of going to market in the town square. The images of villagers, their gardens and animals, are rustic and homespun; each page looks like a scene constructed from the scraps of a sewing box and infused with charm. Using folk art from around the world to tell her story, Ehlert’s text introduces audiences to all kinds of art, while inspiring them to look in new ways at the scraps that surround them—as bits and pieces of future masterpieces.
Even Ehlert’s nature books read like works of art. While her Leaf Man is an ALA Notable Book, I’ve been intrigued by Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf. The text tells a sugar maple’s story in scrapbook form, with Ehlert’s signature collage-style illustration and maple leaf-shapes depicted even in the negative space. In typical fashion for her nature books, Ehlert uses labels to introduce readers to types of leaves, seeds, and species of birds. My favorite part of this book is the end, where Ehlert offers suggestions to make leaf-shaped bird treats to complement the bare winter trees. Simple and beautiful, this book, like all of Ehlert’s work, shows in extraordinary ways just how beautiful ordinary things can be.
About the Author: Erin Newcomb loves books of all sorts. When she’s not reading and playing with her two daughters, she enjoys teaching literature courses at SUNY New Paltz. She holds a PhD in literacy education and is working toward a world record for number of interlibrary loans. You can catch up with her on Twitter @ErinWyble and on her blog PhD Mama.