The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French

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The Most Wonderful Thing in the World
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Angela Barrett
(Candlewick Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

TheMostWonderfulThinginTheWorld
Starred Reviews: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

Sometimes the very thing we are searching for is right before our eyes. And sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we get the opportunity to discover this truth through beautiful picture book stories like The Most Wonderful Thing in the World.

A retelling of illustrator Angela Barrett’s favorite childhood story, The Most Wonderful Thing in the World starts with a royal problem. An over-protective king and queen of a picturesque kingdom with “sky-blue water and golden bridges” must find a proper husband for their only child, Lucia. Unsure of how to find the right man, they write to “Wise Old Angelo” for advice on what to do. In response, Angelo advises them to find the man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world. And, alas, the parade of suitors who visits the king and queen bring one bizarre item after another: “mysterious magical beasts and a piece of frozen sky,” a “mammoth tusk” and “wind machine”—“even [a] mermaid in a tank.”

In the meantime, clever Lucia finds a way to avoid the madness. Her quiet defiance enriches the storyline as do the illustrations of the city, done in soft colors and lush detail. Lucia’s parents intend on sheltering their daughter. Ironically, their decision to send her away while they choose her future husband provides Lucia the independence she needs to choose for herself.

Away from her parents’ watchful eyes, she befriends Angelo’s grandson, Salvatore, who gladly fulfills her request to show her the city, ancient and romantic—like Venice with an Edwardian twist. Through piazzas, busy markets, and “marble arches” they visit the central spaces but also the hidden gems of the city “where the grand never [think] to go.”

This middle section is my favorite part for the tone feels modern and old at the same time. The story comes alive, as if what we are reading may have actually taken place. In pictures, we see the classic architecture of the buildings juxtaposed with the fairly modern attire of the characters. While Lucia and Salvatore roam the city, the items the suitors bring, too, showcase modern technology. As a side note, I like how some of the illustrations are done in a film reel kind of lay out which may help younger readers follow along more easily.

In words, Vivian French also balances this magical space of old and new. Most powerful for me is the opening line, “Once, in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother.” While fairy tales tend to take place in a time and place centuries old, often foreign and unreal, French’s language gives readers the feeling this tale might be true—or at least the possibility of being real, like it’s just within our reach. After all, as French reminds us, “[Our] grandmother’s grandmother would remember it.”

In the end, it’s Salvatore who reveals the most wonderful thing in the world to the king and queen who realize the answer they’ve been searching for has been in plain view all along. Married, Salvatore and Lucia gracefully rule their kingdom with a deep love for their people. And while the historical details of the story are debatable, one fact is certain: love is the most wonderful thing in the world.

  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

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Best Kids Picture Books for Valentine’s Day

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HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY 2015!
❤️A ROUNDUP TO SHARE THE LOVE ❤️

In-My-Heart-cvr.jpgThis book is great for Valentine’s Day, but is not limited to the holiday.

Even as an adult, feelings are hard to pinpoint, much less express. Written by Jo Witek, with illustrations by Christine Roussey, IN MY HEART: A Book of Feelings, (AbramsAppleseed, $16.95, Ages 2-4), may be a book intended for toddlers, but its universal theme will appeal to all ages.

This beautiful die-cut board book uses colors, shapes, and symbolism to help children identify and verbalize what they are feeling. Witek’s lyrical writing and masterful use of vocabulary are awe-worthy, and are complemented perfectly by Roussey’s fanciful illustrations.

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Interior spread from In My Heart by Jo Witek with illustrations by Christine Roussey, Abrams Appleseed ©2014.

 

When I get really angry, my heart feels as if it’s going to explode!
Don’t come near me!
My heart is yelling, hot and loud.
This is when my heart is mad.

But other times, my heart is cool.
I bob along gently like a balloon on a string.
My heart feels lazy and slow, as quiet as snowfall.
This is when my heart is calm.

Sad, afraid, and shy are emotions which are explored by this perfect pairing of author and illustrator, along with hopeful, brave, and proud, to name a few. Witek ends the book with an open-ended question for the reader, sure to encourage a heart-felt discussion. She asks:

How does your heart feel?

Both Witek and Roussey live in France, and originally published their book in French under the title Dans Mon Petit Coeur, (Editions de La Martiniere/2013). Nothing has been lost in the translation to English, proving the heart speaks a language all its own. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Guess-How-Much-cvr.jpgIt must have been twenty years ago when I first read the touching tale of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare, and teared up. Then, when my oldest daughter was in high school, her boyfriend gave her a copy of the book for Valentine’s Day. I got choked up again when she let me read it. GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU, written by Sam McBratney, and illustrated by Anita Jeram, (Candlewick Press, $9.99, Ages 4-8), is now available in a 4″x4″ special foldout, pop-up book format, and after all of these years, still makes me misty.

A timeless tale of love, this beloved book comes to life with Jeram’s ink and watercolor illustrations of Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare. In this most recent edition, the characters pop off the pages as they try to outdo one another while expressing their love.

“I love you as high as I can hop!” laughed Little Nutbrown Hare, bouncing up and down.
“But I love you as high as I can hop,” smiled Big Nutbrown Hare — and he hopped so high that his ears touched the branches above.

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Interior artwork from Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney with illustrations by Anita Jeram, Candlewick Press, ©2014.

 

McBratney’s text expands upon the phrase, “I love you this much,” so often heard between parent and child, with his creative prose. The sentiment is appropriate any time, but tucked away in a beautiful red sleeve with a decorative gold title, Guess How Much I Love You  makes the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for loved ones of any age. – Reviewed by MaryAnne Locher

❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️

Love-Monster-cvr.jpgThis little Love Monster was a nice little monster living in a land called Cutesville. LOVE MONSTER, written and illustrated by Rachel Bright (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 2-4), is another terrific Valentine’s Day picture book to add to your gift list. Living in a world full of everything cute and fluffy can be hard when you’re a funny looking monster of bright red hue, and googly eyes. Or so it felt that way for our main character who was seeking someone to love him “just the way he was.”

NOTE: Make sure to point out the sign that reads BIG, WIDE WORLD as Love Monster sets off on his search.

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Interior artwork from LOVE MONSTER by Rachel Bright, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ©2014.

Monster looked high, low and he even looked “middle-ish,” one of my favorite words in the story. At the Fancy Dress Shop (costume store) he was almost fooled by a monster mask, then again by his shadow, and finally by his reflection. Was there no one for him?  It almost seemed as if he had a dark cloud hanging over his head. But in a moment of pure storybook serendipity, as Love Monster was almost running out of places to look for love, his luck changed.

“You see, sometimes when you least expect it … love finds you.”

Bright’s message is not a new one, but it’s an oh so important one to share with children. How many times have we said something similar to our kids?  This simple tale is one of hope and reassurance for any child feeling they don’t quite fit in.

Bright’s artwork is not only bold and colorful, reflecting Little Monster’s various moods, but unique. Bright’s created her illustrations with solar etching according to jacket copy.  She uses ultraviolet light to create printing plates, a truly illuminating technique!
– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Other New & Noteworthy Picture Books

Zombie in Love 2 + 1 by Kelly DiPucchio with illustrations by Scott Campbell (Atheneum Books for Young Readers)
A Crankenstein Valentine by Samantha Berger with illustrations by Dan Santat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)