of the Center for Children's Books:
Each month we offer a focus on a particular author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive for focus pieces from previous months.
Whether you're stocking a library's children's collection or your own child's small bookshelf, you probably want a balance--you want to entertain, but you also want to educate. There might be a SpongeBob SquarePants book in there, because the kid went nuclear in the grocery aisle (or threatened to go nuclear, or better yet, was so well behaved for the first time in ages that she deserved SpongeBob), but this is the same kid who has been showing an interest in colors, and birds, and animals, and gardens, and she's aching for the vocabulary to describe all of these fantastic things. She's ripe for the works of Lois Ehlert, a children's book author and illustrator whose paintings and collages keep kids fascinated while they learn about the natural world around them.
Ehlert's pictures, whether the simple layered shapes in Color Zoo or the lush collages in Market Day, grab a child's attention and hold it. It's fun for small kids to examine the pictures and identify the objects; these are books to be read slowly and poured over many times, each time finding something new. Color Zoo, a Caldecott Honor Book, introduces shapes gradually; each page has a cutout of a simple shape, and as you turn the page, a new shape and a new animal are revealed. A tiger becomes a mouse when the circle page is turned, and then the mouse becomes a fox when the square page is turned. (Sounds confusing, but it works!) In Market Day, the pictures are much more complex and rich, yet still attractive to young readers. The book focuses on a trip to the town market. Along the way, we encounter birds, fish, sheep, and an enticing array of fruits and vegetables-all made by Ehlert from materials like wood, paper, beads, and cloth. Rhyming text makes the story more attractive for the preschool set, and the final two pages, which detail the materials Ehlert used in making the illustrations, appeal to older children and adults curious about crafts and about the process of creating the book.
Ehlert's works also include: Eating the Alphabet, an introduction to the letters of the alphabet through a variety of foods, including "ugly fruit" and "alligator pear"; Feathers for Lunch, which is a fun tale about a housecat trying to catch birds that doubles as an introduction to bird watching and classification; Growing Vegetable Soup, a story about a father and son who grow their own ingredients for a delicious soup and learn about how plants grow in the process; and a variety of other works that use unique and attractive illustrations to introduce basic information and concepts. Her books have a place in any collection for small children, and adults and older children will enjoy reading them as well, not only because they have educational value (no Sponge Bobishness here!), but also because the illustrations are the work of a careful and complex artist.