Ella Sarah Gets Dressed by Margaret Chodos-Irvine. Published 2003. Caldecott Honor 2004. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN: 9780152164133
Like most preschoolers, Ella Sarah has interesting, if not questionable, fashion sense, but she and her friends think her outfit is fabulous, and that is what matters. There are several things to love about the illustrations in this picture book. One is the eye-popping bright colors, which fill every spread and draw the eye right into the story. Another is Ella Sarah’s sad faces, and tantrum motions, which increase with intensity the more her family suggests that she conform to their style of dress. Best of all is the scene where Ella Sarah dons her outfit of choice and stands triumphant before the mirror. She probably shouldn’t have thrown her teddy bear at her sister, but she’s looking good! This is a story about fierce independence, not about listening to your mother, but that just shows it’s a true children’s story, written from the child’s point of view.
Olivia by Ian Falconer. Published 2000. Caldecott Honor 2001. Atheneum. ISBN: 9780689829536
Though I think the Olivia cartoon is well done, I’m sad that there is anything in the world that takes the spotlight away from this original picture book introducing this spirited little girl pig and her wild imagination. Anyone who has known a lively preschooler will recognize Olivia’s antics as very realistic. The illustrations are striking because of the very limited palette where red is basically the only non-neutral color, and their style matches the sometimes tongue-in-cheek tone of the text. Little brother Ian is also adorable, and younger siblings will recognize his bewilderment in the face of Olivia’s big personality. I think the later Olivia books become somewhat formulaic, but this first one is a delight.
Owen by Kevin Henkes. Published 1993. Caldecott Honor 1994. Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780688114497
Owen loves his yellow blanket, Fuzzy, but with school starting soon, his parents, goaded by their nosy next door neighbor, Mrs. Tweezers, want him to give it up. Owen perseveres, however, until his parents come up with a much more compassionate resolution than anything Mrs. Tweezers suggests. I doubt this is what kids would like about it, but my favorite part of this book was the peer pressure inflicted upon Owen’s parents by Mrs. Tweezers. I have a fascination with the portrayal of adult problems in children’s books, and this particular relationship is so familiar, and so well-written. I also like the way Henkes writes parents in general. They’re always nurturing and kind, but not without flaws and quirks. These parents cave to their neighbor’s objection to the blanket all throughout the story, but ultimately prove themselves to have their son’s best interest at heart. This book is, above all, a comforting testament to the security of knowing your parents love you - perfect for preschoolers.