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They're never too old for picture books

For The Baltimore Sun
Librarian-recommended picture books for kids of all ages.

Editor's note: This week, we're introducing a new regular contributor to Life & Travel. Paula Willey of the Baltimore County Public Library will explore and recommend books for young readers.

If you are the parent of a toddler, chances are you head straight to the picture-book section when you visit the library or bookstore. Good for you! Reading aloud is the single best thing you can do to prepare a child for reading independently — and a pleasurable experience for everyone.

But what happens after your child learns to read? She's off among the chapter books looking for mystery and magic, and you're browsing the best-sellers. Is that it? No more reading together?

Don't let it happen. New readers are accustomed to the verbal acrobatics, gentle insights and humor of picture books. They may find Beginning Reader fare, which is written with word count and vocabulary limits, to be less than stimulating. Remind them that books are fun by reading a picture book with them before bedtime or after homework.

And reading picture books with older children — even accomplished readers — allows you to keep tabs on their skills, supporting their comprehension and beefing up vocabulary. Sharing a picture book with an older child has other benefits, too. Experiencing a new one for the first time puts you on an even footing — neither of you knows what's going to happen when you turn the page. And it's nice to revisit old favorites together as you both notice new details and make new connections.

Picture books are just too much fun to give up. Here are a few recent books that inject a little springtime light and color into the life of readers from newborn to 90.

Spots in a Box
By Helen Ward

"There once was a guinea fowl without any spots,
which made him feel odd 'cause the others had lots."

How many different types of spots can you imagine? In his attempts to remedy his spots-less situation, our resourceful guinea hen sends away for spots in the mail. But what he gets are gigantic spots, then tiny ones, splattery spots, freckles, moles, and … strings. A clever story about fitting in — or not — with standout watercolor art, interesting textures and goofy-looking birds.

The Jacket
By Kirsten Hall, illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova

Told from the point of view of a book (named Book), all of Book's dreams come true when a little girl picks him up. But what happens when Book is no longer shiny and new? Will the girl still love him? Of course she does — she makes Book a beautiful paper jacket. A scribbly drawing style and zingy colors give this sweet story lots of energy.

P. Zonka Lays an Egg
By Julie Paschkis

"All the other chickens laid eggs regularly. All of them except P. Zonka."

The clear bright watercolors, swooping, looping lines and folkloric patterns of Julie Paschkis' work make her stories feel like heirlooms from an earlier age. This humorous new fable tells the story of an eccentric hen who lays colorful pysanky — Ukrainian decorated eggs made with beeswax and dye. Instructions for how to throw your own pysanky party are featured on the publisher's website.

Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin
By Chieri Uegaki and Qin Leng

"Ojiichan played every morning. From his study, the clear, bright notes would drift upstairs, through the shoji screen doors to where Hana slept on sweet-smelling tatmi mats, and coax her awake as gently as sunshine."

Hana's grandfather plays classical music, folk songs, and melodies inspired by nature. But Hana has only had three lessons, and her big brothers tell her that her performance at the school talent show is sure to be a disaster! In sprightly ink and watercolor art, we see Hana practice for her parents, for the dog, and in front of a photo of Ojiichan, until, with consummate courage, she takes the stage.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt
By Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

"Up in the garden, I stand and plan, my hands full of seeds and my head full of dreams."

From the muddy days of early spring through moonlit autumn nights, a little girl and her Nana plant, tend and enjoy their garden. Insects and animals do their part, too, stirring the soil, eating pests and pollinating plants. Kate Messner's vivid descriptions of cool, crumbly earth, hot sun, and summer breezes will have readers itching to get their hands dirty.

Home
By Carson Ellis

Inviting as an open door, intriguing as a set of stairs leading to unknown rooms, "Home" has many layers. Artist Carson Ellis paints a multitude of dwellings, real and imagined, asking us to envision who might live in them — or telling us who does. Eventually, she shows the reader her own house, and her worktable, and sharp-eyed readers will spot the objects that inspired her painted houses.

Paula Willey is a librarian at the Parkville branch of Baltimore County Public Library. She writes about children's and teen literature in various national publications and online at unadulterated.us. She can be reached at pinkme@gmx.com.

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