THE BOOKS OF M.B. GOFFSTEIN
Rummaging through a stack of children's books in a charity shop one day, finding M.B. Goffstein's Sleepy People felt like unearthing treasure. Goffstein's words accompanied by her small pen and ink drawings, familiar and grounding, simple yet luminous: a subtle dreamscape in mini. Charmed by this tale of a tiny, snoozy, cocoa-drinking race, a quick google search online and a few weeks of waiting (Goffstein's books aren't in print at the moment, and though relatively easy to find secondhand, they must usually travel from the U.S.) resulted in more quick favourites coming to join the first.
'Goffstein is a minimalist, but her text and pictures carry the same emotional freight as William Blake's admonishment to see the world in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour,' wrote Time magazine. Focussed on the details of everyday life, on family, nature and the joy of meaningful work, they are warm and off-beat, often pragmatic but never purely. Child or adult, these books stick with you.
Start by hunting out Sleepy People, Goldie the Dollmaker and Goffstein's personal favourite Artists' Helpers Enjoy the Evenings. One unexpected joy on mail day: the often ex-library stock that will arrive still with borrower card inserted, the list of handwritten children's names date stamped and bearing witness to its history of readers.
Kun is four years old and newly minted as a big brother. Struggling with the reality of no longer being the privileged centre of his parents' world, he behaves as you'd expect: tears, tantrums, and a lot of lashing out. After one such episode – a particularly bad one where he hits his newborn sister Mirai on the head with a toy train – he flees to the garden and there begins his regular time-travelling adventures. Meeting among others, his mum as a child, the grandpa he never met, and his dog turned human, it is his encounter with the future Mirai that most profoundly changes his attitude.
Unusually for an animation, none of the characters are hugely likeable. Rather than being a negative, this adds weight to a story that could otherwise veer into tedious fable. With the exception of Mirai (who understandably hasn't had the chance to develop a personality, teenage apparition included), the characters feel remarkably real and relatable. Kun reacts with all the nuance of a normal four year old boy, the dad's ineptitude is met with equal forbearance and exasperation by his wife, and the parents both struggle – and arguably come to the most sensible conclusion – with what it means to be a 'good' parent.
A mix of CGI and hand-painted backgrounds, the animation is detailed and appealing: the depiction of the architect-designed home that they live in, particularly beautiful. The soundtrack, though not as heartrending as in writer/director Mamoru Hosoda's earlier film Wolf Children, is the perfect accompaniment to this child's eye view of the world.
LA PETITE BIBLIOTHEQUE RONDE
Situated in the outskirts of Paris in the suburban town of Clamart is la Petite Bibliothèque Ronde (the Little Round Library), a midcentury modernist beauty and a home from home for the children and families of the local area. Here, everything is designed with children in mind, from the small-scale versions of furniture by Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen and Harry Bertoia, to the height of the shelves and the sinks in the bathroom. Independence is promoted at every turn. Children are encouraged to view the library as their own with a responsibility to care for it and its contents, even to help in its running. The bigger kids (starting at around eight) act as assistant librarians: making loans, re-shelving books and guiding the younger ones in their reading. For those children living in the surrounding tower blocks, they can even visit the library alone without their parents, for there are no roads to cross on the way.
Designed by the architecture collective Atelier de Montrouge, the nine concrete cylinders that make up the building's structure are surrounded by a community garden containing plants from all over the world. Inside, the circular rooms spin out from a central point from which the librarians can see into each - a feeling of calm and security ensues. There is freedom to read inside or out, together or alone. We visited one summer day last year. Standing in one of the circles, surrounded by the biggest collection of children's art books we've ever seen, with the wide doors flung open and the trees outside sending dappled shadow shapes across the floor, it didn't feel too far from a miniature utopia.
Opened in 1965, la Petite Bibliothèque Ronde (then called la Joie par les Livres - Joy by the Books) was conceived with a desire to expose young minds to art and culture, to awaken their curiosity about life and the world, and to fight against the inequalities that prevent access. Today, even with the library building itself closed for a short time for essential renovations, the library's missions remain intact. Dedicated to promoting such necessary pleasures as reading aloud and reading outside (when beautiful weather causes a decline in library visitors, the librarians move outside into the surrounding green spaces), and to the introduction of art in all its forms (musicians, photographers, authors and artists are regularly invited to participate), it continues to embed itself in the hearts and lives of its community.