Even though I'm well beyond the targeted age group for picture books, I still love them. Because words and art are so entwined in picture books, they convey a story in a way that regular books cannot. As I've grown older, I've especially come to appreciate the art of illustration, and so I have a small but growing collection of picture books by illustrators I particularly admire.
One such illustrator is Elsa Beskow. A Swedish author and illustrator, Beskow published dozens of children's books over the first half of the twentieth century. While Beskow's books have enjoyed enduring popularity in Sweden, I had never heard of Beskow or her works until I came across them in a Waldorf-inspired toy catalog some years ago. Since then, I've come to own three of Beskow's picture books, and would love to add more to my collection. With their creative stories and beautiful illustrations, Beskow's books are some of the nicest picture books I've ever seen.
Take Around the Year, for example. This book takes a concept that's been done by countless picture book authors--rhymes and illustrations for each month of the year--but somehow brings a freshness and an authenticity that similar books don't have. Even though Beskow is describing the seasons in Sweden, I find her rhymes very evocative of how the changing months seemed in my own childhood. For June, for instance, Beskow writes, "We'll play at boats, / we'll splash and tease. / The sun is so warm / and so is the breeze." Beskow ends the next month's verse with the moody statement, "But July is here / and / THUNDER in the air." In just those few words, Beskow captures the feeling of a coming summer storm perfectly.
Beskow's prose books are equally enchanting. I especially love the Peter and Lotta series of books, which follow the adventures of two siblings who live with their colorful Aunt Green, Aunt Brown, Aunt Lavender, and Uncle Blue. I own two books in this series, Peter and Lotta's Christmas and Peter and Lotta's Adventure. The former book details some old Swedish Christmas traditions such as the coming of the Christmas Goat, and weaves a sort of fairy tale into the festivities. The latter book chronicles Peter and Lotta's attempt to give away some new kittens that results in their getting lost--but ultimately ends happily with the siblings being reunited with their family at a fair.
The English-language editions of Elsa Beskow's books are available from Floris Books, all in beautiful hardcover copies with brightly colored cloth spines. Floris also has a detailed biography of Beskow on their website, which gives some interesting insight into her background. Also, since 2011, Floris has been producing an Elsa Beskow calendar, so if you haven't yet gotten a calendar for the new year, you might want to consider giving this one a try.