Many parents have had this experience: you are walking along the sidewalk with a child in tow, day-dreaming or making plans, and your small companion pipes up to say:"look!" "Look at the squirrel eating a peanut!" Or "look at the dog in the baby stroller!" Or "look at the man with the purple hair!" (We live in New York City is all I can say.) They notice things, these kids, things that our adult, big-picture brains often miss. They see the pennies on the sidewalk, they spot the first star in the sky, they notice when Dad gets a new haircut or when Mom tries on a different pair of earrings for a change.
Is it because they themselves are of a smaller size that they're so attuned to the details of our world? It can't be that simple, but who knows? Or maybe their brains are uncluttered enough to take in the minor notes of beauty, interest, or humor in the world that our over-tapped grown-up minds simply cannot.
Whatever the reason, one of the lovely aspects of spending time with a young child is being called to pay attention to the details. Whether we're walking them to school or reading a book together, they ask us to attend to the little things they notice. What a pleasure that can be!
Certain picture books are especially fun to linger over with our kids, just to appreciate the details. Here are a few that always catch our kids' eyes:
Animalia by Graeme Base. The most visually stunning alphabet book we know.
The Apple Pip Princess by Jane Ray. An entirely original fairytale with a wonderful message about the renewal of the natural environment. The collage artwork is full of captivating visual detail.
The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. As a little boy grows a garden that spreads across his city, young readers enjoy noticing how the cityscape changes and how each plant grows over time.
Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock. As he walks home from school with his big sister, Simon loses his belongings left and right, and it's the reader's job to find them. Amidst the profusion of detail in these pictures of Paris, like the inside of a patisserie or the Louvre museum, spotting Simon's lost crayons or knapsack is a challenging task!
Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky. Zelinsky's magnificent Renaissance-style oil paintings are utterly absorbing, as is his retelling of this ever compelling story.
Flotsam by David Wiesner. What does the underwater world look like? A magical camera voyages undersea and offers picture upon picture of very strange, fantastical sights with no lack of aquatic detail to contemplate.
And for children and grown-ups who truly feast on visual specificity, the time is surely right to take in the works of a few of the great artists of detail. It is a joy to introduce children to the work of Alexander Calder with his famous mobiles and especially his circus of handmade wire animals (on permanent display at the Whitney Museum in New York). Georgia O'Keefe, with her up-close look at the insides of flowers, is often favorite of young children. And, unlikely as it may seem, we also have fun showing them the works of Pieter Bruegel the 16th century Belgian painter who is known for painting many small figures in a large space including, most appropriately, Children's Games. Have a look with your kids!
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