Last week I wanted to showcase a writer I’ve loved for as long as I’ve owned books; this week I want to look at someone brand new to me. Byrd Baylor is an author suggested to me by Marge Pellegrino, who I had the great pleasure of meeting last semester. Marge, also an excellent children’s author whom I’ll most likely discuss when we get to multicultural books, mentioned Baylor when I asked who her favorite children’s author was. I thought it only fair to pass on word of this awesome artist (and I don’t use the term artist lightly) after having checked out some of her work for myself.
The reason Marge loved Baylor was for the poetry in the way she writes, and Marge wasn’t lying. I can’t claim to have read all of Baylor’s numerous books, I’ve only read a handful so far, but those that I’ve seen have left me craving more. She has a unique grasp of simple language that she turns into some awesome imagery. This is doubly important because Baylor’s work tends to focus around the desert’s creatures and its people which make imagery essential, especially for a an ice town dweller such as myself. Though I’ve never seen a desert, I can experience the stark beauty in Baylor’s descriptions of the environment she obviously loves.
Added all of those wonderful aspects, Baylor has a way with simplistic poetic free verse, that while not exactly narrative, is gorgeous. The language is at a lower reading level, but the delivery can be enjoyed by anyone. That’s an awesome feat.
Below I have a sampling of her books, four to be exact, that I really want to share because they’ve definitely left an impact, and you all should check them out.
I’ve admitted before that I’m a creative writing major, but I’m also an anthropology major which is one of the big reasons I see Baylor’s books as such gems. My second love to writing is mankind in general, and the anthro nerd within me swells with joy at Baylor’s book When Clay Sings. Illustrated by Tom Bahti, who just happens to be a graduate of the University of New Mexico’s Anthropology Department, When Clay Sings explores the art and lives of ancient American Indian people through the clay artifacts they left behind. Baylor’s poetic words tell of the stories of ancient people whose lives are buried in the sands of the desert. Bahti brings the magic of ancient art into the picture book which really shows the native people’s world through their art. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Baylor and Bahti managed to win a Caldecott Honor for this book. When Clay Sings is a beautiful blend of words and art that kids should be exposed to. The book has an artistic simplicity that any age group can appreciate.
The same could be said for Baylor’s The Desert Is Theirs. This picture book, illustrated by Peter Parnall, also earned a Caldecott Honor Award and has that poetic beauty that Marge Pellegrino told me about. The desert people, animals, and plants are live in the pages of the book which acts as a celebration of the desert and the creatures that thrive within its sands. It’s beautiful, physically and thematically. The limited color palette and clean lines used by Parnall perfectly compliment Baylor’s prose.
Together, Baylor and Parnall are definitely an award worthy tag team as shown by the fact that they managed to land another Caldecott Honor with The Way to Start a Day. The Way to Start a Day celebrates the way different cultures traditionally greet the sun every morning. The book is a subtle way to introduce children to the fact that the world is filled with different kinds of people with their own ways of living their lives, but who all exist under the same sun and celebrate that sun each day. The theme is hopeful and insightful without loosing sight of it’s audience. I’m a bit in love with it.
The last book I want to address was the one Marge mentioned when we spoke: Everybody Needs a Rock (also illustrated by Parnall). The book is a clever list of rules that guide the reader on how to find a perfect, personal rock from all of nature’s different stony options. My friends and I are the type of people who tend to collect rocks from the places we travel and so the concept of this book has a special place in my heart. As Marge said when we spoke, the book makes you realize that “Well, of course everyone needs a rock.” I couldn’t agree more, just like I can’t argue that Baylor is an awesome author for kids to read.
Baylor has an appreciation for words and nature that, when combined, is a bit bewitching. I’m definitely enamored and I’m glad to know that me and my crazy bunch of friends aren’t the only ones who search for perfect rocks everywhere we go. (I like smooth, speckled rocks with flecks that shimmer when they’re wet.)
I cannot wait to check out more Byrd Baylor books from the library and hope you’ll take the time to appreciate someone who really is an excellent artist. I wish I had seen her work as a kid; I think the storyteller within me would have loved to see the poetic prose before now. Either way, I’m loving it now, and I’m a happier reader and better writer for it.
How about you all, have you read any Byrd Baylor?
Do you have requirements for a perfect rock?
Is there a favorite poetic children’s writer whose work you can’t seem to forget even after all these years or favorite picture book?
Books I Mentioned in this Post:
Byrd Baylor, Illustrated by Peter Parnall. Everybody Needs a Rock. New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 1974.
Byrd Baylor, Illustrated by Peter Parnall. The Desert is Theirs. New York: Atheneum Books for Younger Readers, 1975.
Byrd Baylor, Illustrated by Peter Parnall. The Way to Start a Day. New York: Atheneum Books for Younger Readers, 1978.
Byrd Baylor, Illustrated by Tom Bahti. When Clay Sings. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972.