We read a LOT of picture books. There are a lot of good picture books. There are a lot of very good picture books. And there are some great picture books. I think there is a trend lately in the picture book world to make picture books great by pushing the envelope of the genre. Sometimes this results in books that are inventive but still very much aimed at kids: Green, More, And Then It’s Spring or Otto the Book Bear. Sometimes it results in books that are beautifully done but in my opinion much more enjoyed by adults and book critics than real kids (or at least the three kids that live in my house). House Held Up by Trees is an example of that kind of book in my mind. The author, Ted Kooser, is a poet and the illustrator Jon Klassen is one of the stars of the juvenile picture book world. It’s a beautiful book but the style is cold and the story sad. I can’t imagine most kids loving it.
And then there are books like The Obstinate Pen. Books that appeal to kids but also appeal to adults. Books that are great picture books but that are also just great books. It’s a joy to discover one, especially when it’s a random grab off the library shelf.
In this book, a boy named Horace’s Uncle Flood discovers a new pen. He starts to write a story with it but instead of the words he wants to say appearing on the paper, the pen writes “You have a big nose.” Uncle Flood eventually becomes so angry he throws the pen out the window. We see it travel through a series of owners, each being insulted by the pen that refuses to write what they want. Finally it ends up back with Horace who discovers a way to make the pen do his bidding. David loved this book. He thought the insults were hilarious (“yam headed organ grinder”) and he really liked the ending which fit his artistic creative personality very well.