Neverending Stories, from Bal Harbour Magazine
It’s a time for closeness, laughing and talking together. What better time to pick up a book and immerse yourself (and your little ones) into a literary fantasy? Here, we take a deeper dive into some of our favorite children’s selects from Books & Books Bal Harbour—all available for online purchase, with free delivery to your doorstep!
“Year after year, we’ve seen increases, especially where kids books are concerned,” Cristina Russell, the head buyer of children’s books for the locally-owned, indie chain Books & Books, said. “Books are something that we as a society seem to value, especially that feeling of reading to your kids at night. There are a lot of parents who still place a lot of value in that.” According to Russell, kids are gravitating toward visually driven literature—a point that parents and teachers are increasingly taking notice of. “For a very long time there was a sense, even within schools, among educators, that graphic novels were not real books. We’re seeing that change,” Russell said. As parents become more willing to purchase these books, popular children’s series have soared to the top of bestsellers lists.
And this surge in popularity has long-term implications for children’s literacy. “We’re noticing that when kids fall in love with a series like ‘Dog Man,’ and when they are encouraged to read what they really like, even if it seems below their level momentarily, it can work as a gateway to them becoming big readers,” Russell said. “Dog Man” is a graphic-novel series by Dav Pilkey, who is also known for the illustrated hit series “Captain Underpants,” about a crime-fighting superhero who is half cop (body) and half police dog (head), stitched together after a villainous plot results in a fortuitous accident. The first “Dog Man” book appeared in 2016, four years after the character was written into the final installment of “Captain Underpants.” Last year, Scholastic published the seventh and eighth titles, “For Whom the Ball Rolls” and “Fetch-22.” The newest, “Grime and Punishment,” is set for September.
Raina Telgemeier, another pioneer in the graphic-novels space, appeals to an often ignored market: comic books’ female readership. Telgemeirer’s rise to the ranks of Y.A. royalty began in 2010 with her debut novel, “Smile,” about years of dental horrors and the insecurities she faced as a middle-schooler. Last year, she published her third graphic-novel memoir, “Guts,” in which she opens up about anxiety and the toll it took on her insides, beginning in fourth grade. In the intimate account, Telgemeier works to destigmatize mental illness and therapy for young readers.
A new generation of celebrities are putting their stamp on the thriving illustrated children’s-book category. Though there’s never a lack of offerings by film, music, and television stars on the store shelves, like other celebrity ventures—memoirs, podcasts, and Netflix specials—the key to a successful celebrity-penned children’s book is authenticity, Russell says.
In “Rumple Buttercup: A Story of Bananas, Belonging, and Being,” written and illustrated by Matthew Gray Gubler, a self-conscious green-skinned monster hides below ground, only emerging at night, disguised by a banana-peel hat. The lovingly crafted, hand-lettered picture book is the debut from the actor, better known for his role as Dr. Spencer Reid on the TV series “Criminal Minds.” It is about learning to cast off fear, embrace the “weird,” and find fulfillment through relationships with others and yourself. Following its success, Gubler has announced that a sequel is already in the works.
Another celebrity making a mark with a message of self-acceptance is the Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o. Her much praised debut, “Sulwe,” illustrated by Vashti Harrison, is a deeply personal account of a little girl who dislikes her dark skin, envying the bright complexions she sees around her, in her family and at school. It’s a heartwarming story that deals with difficult subjects like colorism, self-esteem, and the insecurity that results from narrow beauty standards.
Ultimately, Russell says, mindfulness and kindness have been popular themes for children’s books in the past few years. These works will continue to draw young readers with their ageless messages. “I think people really underestimate the sophistication of what’s being published in the children’s-book world. It is a very open, diverse place, and especially compared to the adult market,” she said. “With a book like ‘Sulwe,’ what she’s saying about race and colorism isn’t said in that way to adults, even.”
Here, we escape to a literary fantasy of our own with actor-turned-author Matthew Gray Gubler as he takes us inside his newest book, “Rumple Buttercup.”