The List: Maira Kalman

soar_kalman_03The book that singlehandedly reignited my interest in kids’ books long after I had lost all my baby teeth was Maira Kalman’s Max Makes a Million, about a New York City dog who dreams of moving to Paris to become a poet.  I wasn’t exactly the book’s target audience when my mom bought it for me (I was in college) but no matter. I loved everything about it, from the illustrations reminiscent of Marc Chagall to the urbane vision of a Manhattan populated by artists who paint invisible paintings and architects who design upside down houses. I’ve since had the pleasure of getting to know the wonderful Maira and she recently sat down with me to kick off a new feature where I’ll be asking authors and illustrators to name the kids’ books that have meant the most to them.

So herewith …

Maira Kalman’s Favorite Children’s Books

1) Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

“I loved reading it to my kids when they were little. It’s beautifully written, philosophical, and funny.”

2) Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

“Probably the greatest children’s book ever written, and also a complicated book about mathematics, language and logic. Did the kids like it when I read it to them? I don’t know. It was more like, “You go to sleep, I’ll read Alice in Wonderland.

3) William Steig’s books

“So lyrical and almost Proustian. The Amazing Bone is probably the one I read the most often. The only Steig books I really wasn’t a big fan of were Rotten Island and Shrek.”

4)  Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

“It was such an amazing experience for me to read about this heroic, intrepid girl who wasn’t afraid of anything.”

5) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“Growing up in the Bronx, I was astonished that people lived in this kind of splendor. Ever since then I have adored British castles and gardens.”

6) The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

“I didn’t read it growing up. But as with all my favorite children’s books it’s very funny, with a certain sophistication.”

7) The Philharmonic Gets Dressed by Marc Simont

“A fantastic book from the 1960s that follows musicians through the process of getting ready for a performance. It has such a sense of both groundedness and giddiness.”

8) Eloise by Kay Thompson

“So terrifically funny, and, you know, there’s no punctuation in the book. It runs on like the madcap chatter in a British comedy! Also, I love the use of language.  Sometimes the vocabulary is a reach, of course, but I think children can appreciate the music in words.”

9) Ludwig Bemelmans’ books

“Ludwig Bemelmans has been a personal inspiration for almost everything in my life. His books, especially the Madeline books, not only inspired my style, but my attitude towards life. Reading about him helped me realize, “Ah! You can write and you can paint, you can do work for adults and for children. You can travel, you can be a bon vivant — which I’m not — and, even in the midst of tragedy, you can have this great joy in life.”

Max Stavinsky

Max Makes a Million by Maira Kalman

P.S. The American history-loving Maira says she is currently finishing up a book about Thomas Jefferson, which will be published later this year. And she’s working on two more books, both tied to an exhibit she’s guest curating for the Cooper-Hewitt (“Maira Kalman Selects”) when it reopens in 2014. One will be an alphabet book for children about design, and the other will be a book for adults on design.

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