The first, Bonny Becker's A Visitor for Bear, I heard read on the radio before I read it for myself. Daniel Pinkwater, the great children's book author, was on NPR's week-end edition. He read through Becker's A Visitor for Bear, which is about Bear, a reclusive sort who doesn't like visitors (he even has a sign) and the mouse who wears him down. Even without seeing Kady MacDonald Denton's illutrations (which are lovely and expressive) I was completely charmed by the story. Bear's revelation, that maybe friends are a good thing, comes around with gentle inevitability and good humor. To see the apron wearing Bear exhausted into providing tea and a crackling fire for the cheeky mouse is one thing, but Becker takes it further, exposing Bear's vulnerabilities - the mouse listens to him, takes an interest and laughs at his jokes, which are all new experiences for Bear - so that when the mouse says he has to go, Bear's despair is painful and understandable. Happily the mouse ends up staying and the pair enjoy a second cup of tea by Bear's fire, a comforting ending to a moment of genuine catharsis and change on Bear's part.
The second book, You've Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave and illustrated by Nick Maland, is the sort of book I wish I'd had as a child. The dragons are humorous stand-ins for the very real fears and anxieties children (and adults) have. The book goes through all of the things we tend to do when we've got dragons - we ignore them, yell at them, hide from them, fight them, and yet they keep growing bigger until we're expert dragon-havers. But, if we take a different approach, if we acknowledge our dragons, give them names (I liked Montgomery the Math Test Dragon), know what they look like and treat it with respect, the dragon shrinks, until one day it disappears. But the really wonderful thing is that it gives no false promises to the child reader, ending with the line, "now you'll know what to do the next time you've got dragons." You will get more dragons and that's ok, because now you know what to do. It's a comforting message, and practical advice that both children and adults could benefit from, delivered in a humorous and charming package.
Very often, children's books are formulaic, or didactic, or saccharine, or simply nothing special. Every once in a while though, you come across a book that reminds you of why you loved picture books as a child. A Visitor for Bear and You've Got Dragons are two such books. I will very proudly read them to our children should we be lucky enough to have them, and if we aren't, I'm very happy to have them on my shelf anyway.