I love children's books. I adore the feel of chunky board books, designed to withstand brand-new teeth and chubby uncoordinated baby hands. I have stacks of picture books filled with photographs of apples, balls and cats and bold illustrations meant to capture a toddler or preschooler's imagination. I could sit for hours listening to a new reader sound out his or her first chapter books.
Although I enjoy the charming sweet confections that comprise most people's experience with children's literature, my favorites, as some of you may know, are the curious, quirky, unique and unexpected books that balance adult humor and outrageous creativity. Mixed in with the classics, my bookshelves hold stories of depressed cutlery, abandoned orphans, disturbing three-toed boys, child-eating reptiles, and the occasional sarcastic historical figure. I think children's stories should be irreverent, challenging, laugh-out-loud funny and beautiful, which is why I agree with every line of "The Picture Book Proclamation," especially its plea to avoid the bland and conventional in children's publishing.
It's not always easy to find these books. Sometimes, if you're lucky, your local bookstore might have one sitting on the shelf, cover forward, just waiting for you to take it home. I'm a sucker for good packaging, and with the books I like, you often can judge a book by its cover. But in case you're still searching, I want to help. This month, in honor of February's relatively random holidays, I've gathered a few of my favorites -- stories of romantics, presidents, inventors and rodents of all shapes and sizes. Just don't expect rose petals and chocolates.