Free Will Press (2002), $18.95
By Shirin Yim Bridges, Illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Chronicle Books (2002), $15.95
Written and Illustrated by Grace Lin
Knopf (2002), $14.95
Today's children's books are much more diverse than the classic fables of my day. Though I expected the usual fairy tales -- you know, pale girl in trouble, blond prince to the rescue -- I was happily surprised to find that hip hop has invaded yet another genre, that of picture books for 4- to 8-year-olds. I especially appreciated award-winning author Michael Perry's second book, Turntable Timmy. It's a straight-from-the-'hood kiddie tale with rhymes about how our lead character will someday set it off as a DJ (a CD of the Bay Area's own QBert is included). I admit I'm absolutely in love with the fact that Timmy is an elfin little boy of unknown ethnicity, since it so clearly represents the musical style's crossover appeal. And Doug Cunningham's artwork is on fire -- a childlike graffiti style with an urban feel, which loans the book some street cred yet still remains true to the kids.
Speaking of flames, one can't help but notice the fire-engine red graphics of author Shirin Yim Bridges' first children's book, Ruby's Wish. It's the true-life story of a little girl named Ruby, who struggled to fulfill her dreams of continuing her education and eventually attending a university, during a time in China when girls were most desirably groomed for matrimony. While the story is slightly more sophisticated than what you'd expect for this age group, it's a subtle sophistication and not beyond the understanding of the book's readership. As a bonus, the delicate, Old World illustrations by Sophie Blackall are eye-catchingly beautiful.
Grace Lin has written more than half a dozen children's books, and if her latest, Kite Flying, is any indication, she's only begun to tap into the Chinese-American experience. Kite Flying is the simple tale of a moment in the life of a girl and her family as they collaborate on making a kite. The book's artwork is bold, with intricate detailing, as in the beautiful patterns on both the characters' clothing and the fabric used to make the toy. But what's most impressive is the summarized history of the kite, which explains its origin, original use, and a few bits of fun trivia. Kite Flying proves that children's books are still the original learning toys.