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Vintage-Style Books Harken Back to a Simpler Era


These new children's books have vintage-look illustrations and simple, old-fashioned but fresh stories. The retro (or mid-century) look is extremely popular in design in 2015.

"Shh! We Have a Plan" by Chris Haughton; Candlewick Press; 40 pages; $15.99.

Chris Haughton, an illustrator and designer from Ireland, was named one of Time magazine's best for his fair-trade work in their "Design 100" list. He puts his vast talents to work here in his third picture book ("Little Owl Lost" and "Oh No, George!" are the others). This eye-popping story of best-laid plans going awry features four tiki-like characters chasing a colorful bird.

"Hello, birdie," calls the littlest of the warriors, clearly on his own agenda, while the others hush, "Shh! We have a plan." They reach with nets, tiptoe and climb trees to try to capture their prey, but in the end, it's the little guy and some breadcrumbs that stop the bird. Soon, more and more birds arrive, chasing the hunters away. Hilariously, the foursome then spot a squirrel, and the witty tale ends with, "Shh! We have a plan."

An uncluttered color scheme — all blue in color other than the vivid birds — gives Haughton's book a refreshing appeal. His four friends are boldly graphic, as are the retro trees and simple, mod birds. Funny and relatable, this little gem of a chasing story will induce giggles in preschoolers.

"Sam and Dave Dig a Hole" by Mac Barnett; illustrated by Jon Klassen; Candlewick Press; 32 pages; $16.99.

What child hasn't dreamed of digging a hole to China? Mac Barnett's simple story of two friends and their dog digging straight down through the earth, and then sideways, together and then separately, is relatable and sweet. The pair share chocolate-milk-and-cookies breaks and eventually get tired and take a nap. What do they find that's spectacular? Barnett's ending has a "no place like home" ending when the boys and dog land after falling down their hole.

Jon Klassen's 1950s-style illustrations feature thumbprint-like faces, lots of dirt colors and a witty appeal. One of "The Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2014," "Sam and Dave Dig a Hole" is an instant classic.

"The Noisy Clock Shop" by Jean Horton Berg; pictures by Art Seiden; G+D Vintage/Penguin; 28 pages; $7.99.

Because vintage children's books are so popular, Penguin Young Readers Group began their own line, G+D Vintage, to feature books from the Wonder Books line originally published in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

The hardcover picture books are vividly colored with timeless stories.

First up, this tale is of clock-shop owner Mr. Winky, who, after Mr. Glum mentions it, becomes overwhelmed by all the noise — "ticks and tocks, and ting-a-lings, and dings and dongs, and cuckoos, and bong-bongs" — and heads to the countryside for some peace and quiet. There, he encounters more noise and takes a walk in the wild woods, where bears and squirrels and crows are loud. Eventually, he makes it back to his shop, apparently revitalized by his little break.

Retro fun abounds in this tale, especially of all the artsy-cool clocks and colorful text during noisy moments. Affordably priced and uber-cool in a mid-century way, the G+D Vintage books are a welcome respite to electronic screens and computer graphics. Others in the series include "Bunny Hopwell's First Spring," "My ABC Book" and "The Too Little Fire Engine," all full-sized and fabulous.

"In" by Nikki McClure; Abrams Appleseed Books; 32 pages; $16.95.

With a three-color palette of mustard yellow, black and white, Nikki McClure turns her bold cut paper illustrations into soothingly vintage scenes. Her story of a little boy who just wants to stay inside and play imaginatively is timeless and harkens to an era without electronic screens.

"I'll climb in this basket and there I will stay. Until I make a rocket ship to fly away. But I will only fly in innerspace," reads the clear text. But the "in" desire only lasts until it rains, and then he just wants to stay "Outside. Outdoors. Out. Out. Out." Soon he's cold and wet and just wants to be "In my warm home. In my bed. In. In. In."

A relatable story of what goes on inside a young child's mind during play, "In" also features a scene full of owls and a chart at the back of the book naming each owl. Kids can spot the boy's toy giraffe somewhere on each vintage-y page spread, as well.

"Tuck Everlasting" by Natalie Babbitt; Farrar Straus Giroux; 180 pages; $19.99.

One of the best books of the past 40 years, "Tuck Everlasting," written in 1975, is a thoughtful tale of eternal life. Is it a blessing or a curse? An age-old human quest, told by the wonderful Natalie Babbitt to children ages 8 to 12, resounds truthfully today just as it did in 1975. With a new foreword by New York Times bestselling author Gregory Maguire ("Wicked"), this 40th anniversary edition makes a fantastic gift for any child. Would you drink out of a spring that grants immortality?

To find out more about Lee Littlewood, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



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