Herewith, three picture books that have made me, an emotional new-ish mother, secretly choke up a little while reading them aloud to my son. Not because they make me sad, but because they make me happy. Yep, it’s like that around here. And in the case of the first of them, I get misty every time I read it. Every time! That’s some writing and illustrating—and/or I am some basket case. I look forward to revisiting these at a perhaps less sentimental time in my life and seeing if they have the same effect. Are there any children’s books that turn you into a blubbering idiot?
- Mole Music by David McPhail, 1999. Mole works all day digging tunnels and watches TV at night. But when he starts to feel like something is missing, he ends up on a life- and world-changing journey without ever leaving his living room (but notice what happens to the TV). Creeping around the edges of this tale are darker themes of loneliness and the fear of futility, but against that backdrop, Mole Music shows us the redemptive power of art, hard work, and dedication. I’m not sure my son, who is two, completely gets the message yet, as his first question after reading this book is usually “Why do moles have scary fingers?” “They need fingers like that so they can dig their tunnels,” I say as I surreptitiously brush away a tear.
- Blueberry Girl, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Charles Vess, 2009. I don’t even have a daughter, but I am floored by this prayer for a baby girl. Addressed to “ladies of light and ladies of darkness and ladies of never-you-mind,” the prayer asks these feminine powers to guide a girl to a happy, independent, creative adulthood. The invocatory, slightly archaic language contrasts nicely with the prayer’s decidedly modern sentiments: “Nightmares at three or bad husbands at thirty / These will not trouble her eyes.” Girls of various ages and ethnicities are shown walking proudly through landscapes that are as flowing as Gaiman’s verses.
- South by Patrick McDonnell, 2008. I have a fellow Lettered Lady, Laura, to thank for introducing me to this wordless story told in simple watercolors. As winter approaches, a bird loses his flock, which flies south without him. A cat befriends the bird and, hand in hand, they make their way south in search of the rest of the flock. Meanwhile, it gets a tiny bit darker and colder on each succeeding page… [hand on chest] Hang on, I’m just a little verklempt. [waves audience away] Talk amongst yourselves…